What is neonatal anemia?

Neonatal anemia occurs in babies with lower than normal red blood cell counts. Most babies have some form of anemia in their first few months of life. This happens because the baby’s body is growing fast and it takes time for red blood cell production to catch up.

Causes of neonatal anemia

Causes of neonatal anemia include:

  • Insufficient production of red blood cells - some babies' bodies don't produce enough red blood cells. Eventually their bodies can start to make enough of these cells, but sometimes they don't catch up fast enough.
  • Blood type incompatibilityA-B-0 and Rh incompatibility happens when a mother’s blood type conflicts with that of her baby. When this occurs, the mother’s blood cells develop antibodies that can attack the baby’s blood cells and cause jaundice.That results in neonatal anemia

Risk factors for neonatal anemia

It's common for most babies to have neonatal anemia during the first few months after birth. Certain risk factors can make babies more likely to have this condition. These include internal bleeding and a situation when there's a transfer of blood between the baby and the mother before birth. This can happen if the placenta or umbilical is somehow damaged.

Symptoms of neonatal anemia

Symptoms of anemia include:

  • Pale skin
  • Abnormal pulse
  • A drop in blood pressure
  • Apnea, or long pauses between breaths
  • Jaundice
  • Lethargy or sluggishness
  • Fast heart rates or rapid breathing
  • Poor feeding or tiredness when feeding

Diagnosis of neonatal anemia

A doctor can order a blood test to diagnose a baby with neonatal anemia. This test may check for the following:

  • Hemoglobinthis is the protein the red blood cells use to carry oxygen throughout the baby's body.
  • Percentage of red blood cellsthis test is a method of determining if the baby is naturally producing new red blood cells. The lower the amount of red blood cells, the higher degree of severity

Treatments for neonatal anemia

Because neonatal anemia is so common for infants, often there might be no need for treatment. Sometimes, the condition can correct itself as the baby grows and develops. However, some treatments may be necessary when babies are born very premature or sick. Babies may receive a blood transfusion. A transfusion adds clean, safe extra blood to your baby's body. This increases their red blood cell counts. Doctors may prescribe certain medications, too. These encourage the baby's body to produce more red blood cells.

It's extremely important that any baby diagnosed with neonatal anemia is monitored closely during feedings. That way, doctors can help make sure that the baby has enough nutrition to encourage their growth and development. The right diet can help babies produce more red blood cells. This can naturally treat neonatal anemia.

Recovery from neonatal anemia

Recovery from neonatal anemia can take up to three months. If this condition is the result of another underlying condition, the recovery period could take significantly longer than the average. During this time, doctors may want to limit the number of blood tests to allow the baby's body time to replenish their red blood cell count.

Often, neonatal anemia can correct itself with time. However, don't be afraid to closely monitor your baby, especially during feeding times. If you notice anything that concerns you, always feel free to call your child's doctor for help.

Find a physician nearby

Mercy Health locations that can treat you