What is anemia?

Babies who have anemia have a red blood cell count that is lower than normal. Red blood cells carry oxygen throughout the body.

What causes anemia in newborns?

There are three main causes of anemia in newborns:

  1. The baby’s body does not produce enough red blood cells.

    Most babies have some anemia in the first few months of life. This is known as physiologic anemia. The reason this anemia occurs is that baby’s body is growing fast and it takes time for red blood cell production to catch up.

  2. The body breaks down red blood cells too quickly.

    This problem is common when the mother’s and baby’s blood types do not match. This is called Rh/ABO incompatibility. These babies usually have jaundice (hyperbilirubenemia), which can cause their skin to turn yellow. In a few babies, anemia can also be caused by infections or genetic (inherited) disorders.

  3. The baby loses too much blood.

    Blood loss in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit usually occurs because we have to take frequent blood tests. These tests are needed to help the medical team manage your baby’s condition. The blood that is taken is not replaced quickly, which causes anemia.

    Other causes include internal bleeding and the transfer of blood between the baby and the mother while the baby is still in the womb.

What are the symptoms of anemia in newborns?

Many babies with anemia don’t have any symptoms. When symptoms occur, they can include:

  • pale skin
  • feeling sluggish (low energy)
  • poor feeding or getting tired while feeding
  • fast heart rate and rapid breathing when resting

How is anemia diagnosed?

Anemia is diagnosed with a blood test. Tests that are used to help diagnose anemia include measurements of the following:

  • hemoglobin: the protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen
  • hematocrit: the percentage of blood that is made up of red blood cells
  • reticulocytes: percentage of immature red blood cells in the blood. This is a measure of how many new cells are being produced.

What treatments are used for anemia in newborns?

Your baby’s doctor will determine what treatment is best for your baby. Many babies with anemia do not need any treatment. However, very premature babies or babies who are very sick may need a blood transfusion to increase the number of red blood cells in the body.

Other babies will be treated with medicine to help their bodies make more red blood cells. All babies with anemia will have their feedings checked, since the right diet will help your baby make red blood cells.

References

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This information is provided by the Cleveland Clinic and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or health care provider. Please consult your health care provider for advice about a specific medical condition. This document was last reviewed on: 2/16/2015...#15698