As part of your routine prenatal care during pregnancy your doctor will order a blood test to determine which type of blood you have – A, B, AB, or O. Part of this prenatal screening is to determine whether or not you carry the Rh factor, a type of protein that exists on the surface of red blood cells and that can cause your immune system to respond in certain ways. Most people (more than 85%) are Rh-positive, but for the smaller population who are Rh-negative, pregnancy can cause added concern. If you are Rh-negative and your partner is Rh-positive, your child can inherit the Rh-negative component or the Rh-positive component.
If you have discovered that you are Rh-negative, that means that your body may develop antibodies to in essence fight off your developing baby, should that baby be Rh-positive. All that it would take is for a small amount of your baby’s blood to mix with your blood (which is not uncommon during pregnancy), and your body might actually defend itself against your baby. Think of it as your body having an allergic reaction to your unborn child. This reaction can cause your baby to become anemic, suffering from what is known as hemolytic disease, and the consequences can be serious illness, brain damage, or even prenatal death. Some infants are born so ill that they don’t survive long after birth.
What is RhoGAM?
Fortunately, scientists and researchers have discovered more about the Rh factor and have developed what you probably know best as the brand name drug RhoGAM. Also known as Rho (D) immune globulin, this medication comes from a solution of sterilized human blood. It is used to prevent your body from seeing your developing baby as a threat. Some of the other brand names that you might see associated with this treatment include:
- WinRho SDF
If you are Rh-negative your doctor will order RhoGAM both during and after pregnancy in order to protect your growing baby, as well as safeguard you after you give birth from complications for future pregnancies. Health care providers will draw your baby’s blood after birth and screen it for the Rh factor. If your baby tests positive and you are negative, you will receive an injection of RhoGAM (or another brand of the same medication). Your body’s reaction to the RhoGAM will be that it doesn’t make antibodies that fight off your baby, and that during future pregnancies you won’t have pre-existing antibodies already in your body.
Your health care provider can administer this medication, but it is not something for which you can receive a prescription. The injection is not painful and usually does not leave you with any side effects, other than possibly mild tenderness at the injection site. If you notice any other symptoms, notify your health care provider immediately. Each pregnancy requires treatment with RhoGAM, and each baby will need to be tested after birth. There are no known harmful side effects that might affect your baby during preg.natal development, and RhoGAM has been shown to also be safe while you are breastfeeding.