Anemia in Newborns

Anemia in newborns is a condition where the baby’s body has a lower red blood cell count than normal. This can happen for several reasons, including if the baby is premature, the red blood cells break down too quickly, the body doesn’t create enough red blood cells or the baby loses too much blood. Many babies do not need treatment for anemia.


What is anemia in newborns?

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


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Symptoms and Causes

What causes anemia in newborns?

A newborn can develop anemia for several reasons. These can include:

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • The baby loses too much blood. Blood loss in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) usually occurs because the healthcare providers need 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.
  • The baby is born premature. Babies who are born premature (early) have lower number of red blood cells. These red blood cells also have a shorter life span when compared to the red blood cells of full term babies. This is called anemia of prematurity.

Other causes include internal bleeding and the transfer of blood between the developing and the pregnant person.

What are the symptoms of anemia in newborns?

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

  • Having pale skin.
  • Feeling sluggish (having low energy).
  • Poor feeding or getting tired while feeding.
  • Having a fast heart rate and rapid breathing when resting.


Diagnosis and Tests

How is anemia in newborns diagnosed?

Anemia is diagnosed with a blood test by your healthcare provider. 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: The percentage of immature red blood cells in the blood. This is a measure of how many new cells are being created.

Management and Treatment

What treatments are used for anemia in newborns?

Your baby’s healthcare provider 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.

Medically Reviewed

Last reviewed on 02/08/2020.

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