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.

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 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:

  • 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.

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 02/08/2020.


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