A baby who has anemia does not have enough red blood cells. The red blood cells carry oxygen in the blood and deliver it to the rest of the body.
Every baby becomes anemic 6 to 9 weeks after birth. This is called physiologic (or normal) anemia. Red blood cells (RBCs) get old and break down but the body makes new red blood cells. Babies cannot make new red blood cells quickly enough until to replace the lost ones until they are 1 month of age. Once the baby starts making new red blood cells, the red blood cell count gradually goes back to normal. Most babies do not have any symptoms from this natural process and do not need treatment.
Besides normal anemia, newborns can become anemic due to:
A baby who is anemic:
Anemia is a normal process for newborns and does not need to be treated unless it causes a problem for the baby.
There are many different reasons for a blood transfusion. Sometimes a transfusion is needed as an emergency. If a baby rapidly loses a large amount of blood or if the blood count is so low that the heart and body are under stress from lack of oxygen, a blood transfusion can save the baby's life.
At other times a transfusion is given to treat a specific symptom that is thought to be made worse by anemia. For example, a baby who is weak and tired and has a very low blood count may become stronger and eat better once the blood count is raised by a transfusion. Very premature babies may have low blood counts. Because of their age and prematurity, they are not expected to make blood for several weeks. In these cases a blood transfusion is given to boost the blood count.
If a transfusion is necessary, your baby's doctor will discuss the reasons with you.
Blood to be given is matched against the baby's blood to make sure it is compatible. The blood is also tested to make as sure as possible that it is free of any infection that could be passed through the blood.
The blood is given to the baby into a vein with an intravenous (IV) line. The transfusion lasts about an hour. The baby is watched carefully during the transfusion but can be held during this time. The amount of blood given to the baby is relatively small. It is usually no more than a few tablespoons.
Sources of blood
Blood for transfusion comes from the blood bank in one of two ways. Usually the blood is donated by volunteer donors. This is called blood bank blood. It is also possible for family members to donate blood specifically for the baby. This is called directed-donor blood.
All babies outgrow the anemia during their first 2 months of life. Most babies who receive blood transfusions do not have any problems.