Why is the Rh factor important?

Many of the complications that could arise during your pregnancy are unpredictable. Sometimes, your body acts in unexpected ways and the health of you and your baby could be compromised during gestation. However, you and your doctor might be able to successfully predict certain complications. One such complication is your baby's Rh factor.

If you are considering becoming pregnant, your doctor will probably suggest that you and your partner get a blood test to determine whether you are both Rh positive or negative. The blood test will give you valuable information about the proteins attached to your blood cells. Until you're pregnant, the positivity or negativity of your Rh antigens won’t matter. If you do not have Rh proteins on your blood cells, you are Rh-negative. These proteins are the type of antigen responsible for attacking viruses and infections that threaten your immune system.

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What do the results of this test mean for you and your baby?

If you and your partner share the same results, nothing at all. For example, if you find out that you and your partner are both Rh negative, no related complications will arise. The same goes for couples that are both Rh-positive. However, if you are Rh-negative and your partner is positive, a problem could arise. When the mother is negative and the father is positive, there's a chance that the baby could inherit the positivity from the father. When this happens, the mother’s blood will attack that of the baby should the blood combine inside the womb. Essentially, the mother's body will assume that the baby is an intruder and attempt to kill its cells. Unfortunately, it works, and it could seriously harm the baby.

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When the mother's blood attacks that of the baby, he or she could develop anemia or hemolytic disease. This condition can cause brain damage, illness, and even death in many cases. There are ways to prevent your baby from suffering if you find out you are negative and your partner is positive. The first step is getting a blood test with your partner before conception to determine if your baby will even be at risk. If so, you’ve probably already chosen to have a baby together, so you probably won't just leave to find someone with a more favorable Rh factor. Instead, you can seek out treatment to lower your baby's risk.

Source: J. DeCoteau: Positive Antiglobulin Test in Association with Sulindac: Involvement of the Rh Factor Volume 64 Issue 3 pp. 173-183 March 2009

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