Understanding Prenatal Rh Antibody Testing

Rh Antibody Testing

During pregnancy you may encounter various prenatal tests and new or complicated terminology. Your doulas are here to help you understand this information. One such test is the Rh Antibody Screening. Let’s break it down and highlight the important points you should know. 

What is the Rh antibody test? 

This test aims to identify specific antibodies, special proteins produced by your immune system, present in your blood. These antibodies may be present if you have a different blood type than your baby, or you have received blood transfusions or previously given birth. 

Certain antibodies can cross from your bloodstream to your baby’s bloodstream, potentially causing harm. Antibody testing determines their presence so you can take the necessary steps to protect the health of your baby.

Why is this test necessary? 

Your immune system generates antibodies to combat foreign substances it perceives as threats. Typically, these antibodies target germs and provide defense against illness. During pregnancy, your immune system also protects your baby. However, if your red blood cells differ from your baby’s, that may cause problems. 

The most common concern is related to the positive (+) or negative (-) aspect of your blood type, known as the Rh factor. Most individuals are Rh-positive (A+, B+, O+, AB+), which means their red blood cells contain the Rh protein. On the other hand, Rh-negative individuals lack this protein. They may produce antibodies to attack any Rh-positive blood cells that enter their bodies.

If you are Rh-negative and your baby is Rh-positive, your blood may contain antibodies that can cross over into your baby’s blood, leading to the destruction of their red blood cells. 

When is the test done? 

The Rh antibody test is usually done early in your pregnancy, during your first few prenatal visits, or within the first trimester. If you have a negative blood type (like A-, B-, AB-, or O-) and your partner has a positive blood type, the test may be done earlier to determine the need for any preventative measures. 

What do the results mean?  

The results of the Rh antibody test can be either negative or positive.

  1. Negative result: If the test shows that you don’t have any Rh antibodies in your blood, it means everything is okay. You can continue with your pregnancy without any worries.
  2. Positive result: If the test shows that you have Rh antibodies in your blood, it means your body is making some special proteins that could be harmful to your baby. This doesn’t mean something bad will happen, but it’s important to take some extra steps to keep your baby safe.

How will the results influence the rest of your pregnancy and birth?

If your Rh antibody test is negative, your pregnancy can progress normally. Your care provider will continue to monitor your Rh status throughout the pregnancy to ensure early detection of any issues. There won’t be any major changes. 

If your Rh antibody test is positive, your care provider will take extra steps to safeguard your baby’s health. They may do additional ultrasounds and blood tests to closely monitor your pregnancy and your baby’s growth. They might prescribe a special medicine called Rho(D) immune globulin (aka RhoGAM) to stop your body from making more Rh antibodies. This medicine is given by injection and keeps your baby safe from harm.

When it’s time to give birth, if the level of Rh antibodies are significant or there are any signs of fetal distress, your healthcare provider may suggest a more specialized birth plan. This may include delivery in a hospital setting where extra care is readily available. 

Every pregnancy is unique, and the guidance given by your care provider should be tailored to your specific situation. Open communication with your doctor or midwife will help to ensure the best possible outcome for you and your baby.

While the Rh antibody test may sound complex, its purpose is to protect the well-being of both you and your baby. Understanding the results and their implications can allow you to work together with your health care team to ensure a healthy and safe pregnancy and birth experience. Remember that your doulas are here to support you each step of the way! 

About Christie Collbran

Christie believes in helping women recognize their own inner wisdom, strength and power. Having served as President of the Tampa Bay Birth Network for six years and with ten years serving families as a birth doula, she has a reputation for leadership, dedication and compassion. A childbirth educator, certified lactation counselor as well as a certified doula, she makes a point of ensuring mothers and their partners understand all their birthing options and what to expect on their journey.> keep reading