The Rh Incompatibility: Symptoms, Diagnosis & Treatments

hemolytic disease of the newborn

Human blood is categorized into four major groups as A, B, AB, and O. These are based on the genes that are passed from one generation to other. Blood within the human body is formed with red blood cells. These cells contain an antigen known as the Rh factor. Based on the presence and absence of antigen, it is defined as positive or negative. Considering this, we have a total of 8 blood groups.

The condition of Rh incompatibility occurs when a woman has Rh negative blood type, and the baby has Rh-positive. Rh incompatibility is diagnosed in women during pregnancy. This condition is also called Rh disease or Hemolytic disease of the newborn.

Children bring us a piece of heaven on earth.” – Roland Leonhardt
Read about how Brachycephaly and Plagiocephaly affect infant’s growth?

For any mom-to-be or a new mom, it is important to know about small things related to the little one. To avoid any misconceptions, myths and unnecessary fear about Rh incompatibility, this blog provides information on Rh incompatibility definition, Rh incompatibility symptoms and Rh incompatibility causes.

What is Rh Incompatibility?

The term Rh incompatibility directly refers to the mismatched blood types of the mom to be which is negative and the baby with positive blood type. Rhesus disease is a condition where antibodies in a pregnant woman’s blood destroy her baby’s blood cells. It’s also known as Haemolytic disease of the foetus and newborn. This simple mismatch becomes a problem when the mother’s system finds the baby’s positive type as a foreign substance and starts preparing antibodies to attack the baby’s red blood cells.

Rh Incompatibility causes

The foremost cause for Rh incompatibility is the different blood groups on the mother and the baby. The Rh-antigen determines whether the blood type is positive or negative. When the baby has a positive blood type, and the mother has a negative, the mismatch of blood type could lead to this condition which can be fatal if left untreated.

It is mainly because the mother’s body will react to the baby’s blood, which is diverse and identified it as a foreign substance. The blood cells of the baby can mix within the mother’s bloodstream. It happens through the placenta or during birth. So when the antibodies from the mother’s body enter the baby’s body through placental connection , they start attacking the baby’s red blood cells, eventually leading to Hemolytic anemia of the baby ( also known as hemolytic disease of the newborn)

Note: Firstborn baby isn’t usually affected as the baby will be born before the antibodies develop fully, but the firstborn children are prone to this condition if the mother has had previous miscarriages. The antibodies developed during the first pregnancy

Rh Incompatibility symptoms

Rh Incompatibility can cause symptoms that can be severe in some cases. Mild Rh incompatibility shows symptoms that create the destruction of red blood cells. Affecting the red blood cells is the usually the most common symptoms. In most cases the pregnant women might get more serious symotoms. An unborn baby might have symptoms that sear up to life-threatening sometimes.

When an unborn baby is diagnosed with this condition, the mother’s antibodies might attack the fetus attacking its blood cells causing Hemolytic attack.

Other symptoms

  • Low muscle tone
  • Swelling
  • Fluid buildup
  • Higher levels of bilirubin because of the destruction of blood cells.
  • The trouble with the functions of the liver
  • A lethargic mood

Newborn might get Jaundice (a medical condition with yellowing of the skin or whites of the eyes, arising from excess of the pigment bilirubin and typically caused by obstruction of the bile duct, by liver disease, or by excessive breakdown of red blood cells). It is due to the higher levels of bilirubin. The accumulation of bilirubin can even lead to brain damage. The fluid buildup in the baby can lead to Heart Failure. The heart is under pressure when it has to circulate oxygen-rich blood through the body. This process is arduous without the hemoglobin in red blood cells.

Rh Incompatibility Risk factors

It mostly occurs to the baby inside the womb, and can complicate pregnancy. But other than that, if you are Rh-negative, your risk of being exposed to Rh positive kind is high. Lookout for any mismatched transfusion of blood. In some situations, there are risk involved –

  • An ectopic pregnancy
  • Miscarriage
  • A jab with the needle containing positive blood.

Your doctor can find out by screening for positive antibodies in the mother’s body. An ultrasound, amniocentesis can help to diagnose the condition which will reduce the risks involved for both the mother and the baby.

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Rh Incompatibility treatment

It is important to know how Rh incompatibility can be treated since the baby is at higher risk. The treatment focuses on decreasing the effects of Rh incompatibility on the baby. The treatment for this condition is a crucial process because the effects could be fatal if left untreated or poorly treated. If the doctors find out antibodies when you are pregnant, then the condition can be serious. It needs to be observed and treated closely. The baby will receive proper treatment after birth with transfusion, phototherapy, and treatments that regulate their health.

  • The treatment is carried until the baby’s body is stable.
  • The processes is repeated until the RH negative antigen gets removed from the bloodstream.
  • The ill-effects of Rh incompatibility will reduce if the mother gets Rh immune globulin injection to reduce the antibodies.

Sometimes, there is a need for special transfusions or mom to be is given a second injection after the birth. As a precaution, It is important to know your antigen type and ensure that you inform your doctor to get the treatment in the right way. As the Rh factor is genetic, there is nothing you can do to be cautious. It is not a health problem until you have to get pregnant. It can pose a problem for the baby.

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It is disheartening to even think about the pain and suffering of mom to be when she is diagnosed with this condition. It is essential to understand and gather enough knowledge. With knowledge comes strength and ability to handle any hard situation. Familiarize yourself with the risks and complications to be extra cautious, especially if you have had previous conditions during the first pregnancy. Make sure to follow medical procedure.

The Rh Incompatibility: Symptoms, Diagnosis & Treatments
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22 thoughts on “The Rh Incompatibility: Symptoms, Diagnosis & Treatments

  1. Thats a very helpful and indirmtauve post. This is really a new information for me. Will help.many .

  2. Pregnancy is such a life-threatening condition for the mother. What a feat! Yes, the mother’s antibodies will attack the foetus and it depends on the severity of attack.

  3. There are so many things that can occur during pregnancy it is mind-blowing. I am thankful that I’ve had two relatively normal pregnancies.

  4. Thank you for raising awareness. This post is very informative and I learned something new today. I didn’t even know that this can happen and it is so scary. I will definitely pass this on to my friends who are expecting so that they can also be aware of it and its dangers.


  5. Thanks for covering this. It’s important to increase awareness of these sorts of conditions.

  6. Thank you for explaining this, I was tested for it in each of my pregnancies and always wondered what they were testing for and why it was a potential issue! Really informative and clear, thanks

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