ABO Incompatibility vs. Rh Incompatibility

I have heard that ABO incompatibility can cause severe jaundice in a newborn. How does this compare to Rh incompatibility? Are there tests to determine if the baby might be affected? Should this be monitored during prenatal visits? My first child developed severe jaundice, and I wonder if this contributed to his problem and to the developmental delays he is experiencing.


Peg Plumbo CNM

Peg Plumbo has been a certified nurse-midwife (CNM) since 1976. She has assisted at over 1,000 births and currently teaches in the... Read more

ABO incompatibility affects 20 to 25 percent of pregnancies. In this condition, the mother's serum contains antibodies against the baby's blood, which can cause breakdown of the baby's red blood cells, resulting in jaundice after birth.

Fortunately, this condition is not as severe as Rh disease and causes only mild to moderate anemia in the baby. Fewer than one percent of the babies with this condition require transfusions.

Ask your midwife or doctor to clamp the cord right away in your next birth so that the baby does not get a large transfusion of your blood. This may be enough to prevent jaundice in your next baby.

Significant disease occurs mostly in the newborn where the mother's blood type is O and the infant's is type A or B. Preterm infants would suffer the most from this; most healthy term babies do fine.

Prenatal testing for anti-A or anti-B antibodies or analysis of the amniotic fluid for bilirubin (products of red cell breakdown) are not recommended due to the mild nature of this problem.


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