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A blood transfusion is given to replace fetal red blood cells that are being destroyed by the Rh-sensitized mother's immune system. This treatment is meant to keep the fetus healthy until he or she is mature enough to be delivered.
Transfusions can be given through the fetal abdomen or, more commonly, by delivering the blood into the umbilical vein. Umbilical cord vessel transfusion is the preferred method because it permits better absorption of blood and has a higher survival rate than does transfusion through the abdomen.1
An intrauterine fetal blood transfusion is done in the hospital. The mother may have to stay overnight after the procedure.
A short recovery period (approximately 1 to 3 hours) is necessary to allow the mother's sedatives to wear off. If the fetus was given medicine to prevent movement, it may be several hours until the mother can feel the fetus moving again.
In a severely affected fetus, transfusions are done every 1 to 4 weeks until the fetus is mature enough to be delivered safely. Amniocentesis may be done to determine the maturity of the fetus's lungs before delivery is scheduled.
Fetal survival after transfusion depends upon the severity of the fetus's illness, the method of transfusion, and the skill of the doctor who does the procedure. Overall, after intrauterine transfusion through the umbilical cord:2
Intrauterine transfusions may cause:
Umbilical blood transfusions are usually done by perinatologists at specialized centers.
- Moise KJ (2009). Hemolytic disease of the fetus and newborn. In RK Creasy, R Resnik, eds., Creasy and Resnik's Maternal-Fetal Medicine, 6th ed., pp. 477–503. Philadelphia: Saunders Elsevier.
- Branch DW, et al. (2008). Immunologic disorders in pregnancy. In RS Gibbs et al., eds., Danforth's Obstetrics and Gynecology, 10th ed., pp. 313–339. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams and Wilkins.
Last Revised: October 20, 2011
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