About Your Partner’s Rhesus Factor

Rh+♂+ Rh+♀=✅
Rh-♂ + Rh+♀=✅
Rh-♂ + Rh-♀ =✅
Rh+♂ + Rh-♀=⚠️ Caution when pregnant!

Rhesus incompatibility between a woman & her man can cause baby jaundice, repeated miscarriages, stillbirths & more.

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Humans belong to blood groups ‘A’, ‘B’, ‘AB’, or ‘O’.

Also, we’re either 

– Rhesus positive (Rh+), or 

– Rhesus negative (Rh-)

The “+” or “-” sign usually attached to your blood group represents your rhesus status! Being Rh+ or Rh- depends on you having certain proteins called Rhesus Antigens on the surface of your red blood cells.

If you have the rhesus antigens, you’re Rhesus+

If you don’t have the rhesus antigens, you’re Rh-

The majority of people are Rh+. That’s why blood groups A+, B+, AB+, & O+ are quite common. Only a few people are Rh-. So blood groups A-, B-, AB- & O- are less common.

In fact, studies have shown that only 15% of women are Rh-. Others are Rh+. Like I stated above, the first 3 forms of rhesus combinations between partners are compatible.

But if an Rh- woman is pregnant with an Rh+ man, there’s a 50% chance of their baby having Rh+ blood which can lead to Rhesus incompatibility if adequate precaution is not taken! Rhesus sensitization may happen when there’s a mix of Rh+ & Rh- blood.

Once sensitized, by Rh+ blood, an Rh- woman’s body can make antibodies against the Rh+ blood which it considers as foreign. {Recall that antibodies are natural substances inside your blood that protect you by fighting against foreign substances called ‘antigens’.}

Interestingly, these antibodies made against the Rhesus antigens in your baby’s blood are not likely to cause problems during your first pregnancy! The antibodies just stay in your system, waiting for your next pregnancy from an Rh+ man (or subsequent exposure to Rh+ blood)

Read Also: What your urine colour says about your health and what you should do

For example, during;

  • Pregnancy-related events like abortions, miscarriages, etc (commonest method)
  • Blood transfusion (rare)
  • Accidental exchange of blood such as in road accidents (also rare)

In fact, you may deliver your first baby before many of the rhesus antibodies or “soldiers” are fully formed.

But once completely formed, they will stay in your body waiting for your second or subsequent pregnancies. With anaemia, your baby no longer gets enough oxygen. #Jaundice & #HeartFailure may set in. 

Fluid may also accumulate in the baby’s body making it swollen like a balloon (a condition called hydrops fetalis). The child may die inside the womb as a miscarriage or stillbirth. The good news is that Rhesus incompatibility can be PREVENTED.

An Rh- mother duly accessed & given a shot of Rhesus immune globulin (Rhogam®) within 72hrs of birth, can prevent this. But once you have formed Rhesus antibodies already (sensitized), this drug can no longer work!

An already sensitized Rh- women pregnant with an Rh+ fetus may need to have the fetus inside her womb monitored serially to detect and treat any anaemia quickly in order to keep the baby alive. This can be quite costly and requires sophisticated gadgets.

Here’s the take-home message: if you’re pregnant, go for antennal care early. Your doctor should check your Rhesus status & know what to do. The rhesus screening test will allow your doctor to find out early if your pregnancy is at risk of Rh incompatibility.

If you’ve had a miscarriage, induced abortion, or ectopic pregnancy, especially for a man whom you never knew his Rhesus status, you may be at risk too. So tell your doctor. Ensure you’re screened, properly checked & given a shot of Rhogam if indicated.

Let me repeat for the last time: If you’re a woman with Rh- blood you should be checked for possible treatment with Rhogam during;

  • Each pregnancy
  • Miscarriage
  • Abortion, or
  • Any other event that allows your blood to mix with Rh+ blood.

Let’s fight this together!

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