Rh incompatibility refers to a serious situation in which a pregnant woman and her fetus have different Rhesus (Rh) factors. An Rh factor indicates whether you have a specific protein on the surface of your red blood cells. When you have the protein, you are Rh-positive. Without the protein, you are Rh-negative. Whether you have the protein or not is not a question of health, but of heredity. Rh factor incompatibility occurs when a fetus is Rh-positive, and the pregnant mother is Rh-negative. Every pregnant woman and her doctor should know her Rh factor because incompatibility can cause pregnancy complications.
A fetus whose Rh factor is incompatible with the mother’s Rh may contract Rh disease, which is life-threatening. The disease is more likely to occur in a second or subsequent pregnancy. The first fetus with Rh incompatibility may not experience detrimental effects. However, the first Rh-incompatible fetus sets up the complications for the next one when the immune system creates antibodies against what it detects as a foreign intruder, the positive Rh factor in a negative Rh factor body.
Common Complications from Rh-incompatibility
When small amounts of blood mix between the fetus and mother during delivery, invasive tests, vaginal bleeding, abdominal injury, miscarriage, ectopic pregnancy, or turning a breech baby, the immune system reacts and remembers the proteins it reacts to as invaders when the subsequent fetus with Rh incompatibility arrives. The immune system produces more antibodies that attack the fetus’s red blood cells, which can be fatal.
Complications to the fetus from Rh incompatibility include hemolytic anemia when the immune system destroys red blood cells faster than the body can replenish them. In severe cases, organ failure occurs from anemia, a condition called hydrops fetalis. Also, the fetus’s heart may enlarge, causing fluid buildup that can cause liver and spleen enlargement, liver failure, and stillbirth. In addition, the fetus can suffer jaundice. Even after birth, severe jaundice may further enlarge the liver. The anemia also worsens, and jaundice can turn into kernicterus when too much bilirubin buildup results in it penetrating the brain, causing brain damage, seizures, hearing loss, and death.
Testing for Rh Factor Incompatibility during Pregnancy
The standard protocol for prenatal care is to test for Rh factor during the first trimester to screen for Rh factor in the mother. Most people are Rh-positive. So, when the test reveals a negative Rh and no antibodies have formed yet, the physician should be alerted to the possibility of incompatibility and administer Rh immune globulin, which prevents antibodies from forming. It is ineffective once antibodies form, so early diagnosis and treatment are critical. The immune globulin treatment occurs early in pregnancy, then against at around 28 weeks, and within three days of birth.
Treatments and Interventions when Diagnosed with Rh Incompatibility
However, only primarily moderate to severe cases require treatment. Mild cases typically do not. Treatment options include blood transfusion, bilirubin reduction lights, and premature labor and delivery. However, Rh immune globulin injections can prevent Rh factor incompatibility complications if a physician diagnoses the potential incompatibility and administers it in a timely manner.
The second pregnancy is more at risk since the body carries Rh antibodies after becoming “sensitized” from a fetus with an incompatible Rh factor from the mother’s. An obstetrician’s best path to prevent complications is to carefully monitor the mother throughout the pregnancy and early delivery if necessary. By identifying antibodies in the pregnant woman early in pregnancy, a physician can diagnose and ward off fetal complications.
Depending on the treating physician’s assessment and the parents’ wishes, treatment may include a fetal intrauterine transfusion to fortify the fetus’s red blood cells to prevent anemia from worsening. The transfusion involves delivering the red blood cells into the umbilical cord through a needle inserted into the mother’s uterus. A post-natal transfusion may also be necessary, or early delivery once the fetus’s lungs develop enough. After delivery, the newborn may go directly to neonatal intensive care for treatment for several weeks, especially in cases of prematurity.
Ways Medical Malpractice can Occur with Rh Incompatibility
The prognosis for the baby depends on the severity of the complications. Chances are good that a fetus or baby receiving a blood transfusion will survive, and preventing hydrops from developing in the fetus dramatically increases the survival rate. Thus, overcoming Rh factor incompatibility is probable when your obstetrician takes all of the proper steps. However, when a doctor fails to test for Rh early in pregnancy, they cannot prevent Rh disease or other complications by administering several rounds of Rh immune-globulin shots to prevent dangerous antibodies from forming.
Also, by failing to monitor a pregnancy with Rh incompatibility, the physician may not know when to call in specialists, perform transfusions, or decide on early delivery. Failing to diagnose and treat the condition early may be considered medical malpractice. In addition, failing to recognize complications immediately, such as jaundice, can lead to devastating results. Similarly, medical negligence may occur if the physician neglects to examine the infant for signs of jaundice or order testing for bilirubin levels when Rh incompatibility exists. Overall, physicians who commit any manifestation of medical malpractice that causes complications from Rh disease or other complications may be held liable to the mother and baby for damages.
Contact Rh Incompatibility Lawyers for Immediate Assistance with Your Case in NJ
If your baby needlessly suffered brain damage or other injuries from a medical professional’s negligence in identifying, monitoring, or treating Rh or blood type incompatibility during pregnancy or following childbirth, contact us today to speak to a birth injury attorney as soon as possible regarding your legal options. With years of background and concentrated focus on birth injury law, our highly skilled birth and pregnancy negligence lawyers can assist you in determining whether you have a claim against a doctor, their team, or the hospital that failed you and your baby in a case involving Rh factor incompatibility.
Since an investigation into the cause and consequences of malpractice can take time, consulting with our medical malpractice lawyers immediately for advice about your and your baby’s case is highly advised. You deserve compensation for the medical bills arising from your child’s injuries and other economic losses, such as lost pay, future economic costs of caring for your child, pain and suffering, or the loss of a healthy baby due to medical errors with a preventable or treatable condition. Contact our New Jersey birth injury lawyers at (866)-708-8617 for an absolutely free consultation regarding your Rh factor case.