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Newborn Anemia

What is newborn anemia?

A baby who has anemia does not have enough red blood cells (RBCs). The red blood cells carry oxygen in the blood and deliver it to the rest of the body.

What causes it?

Around 6 to 9 weeks after birth, every baby has a type of anemia called physiologic or normal anemia. Throughout our lives red blood cells get old and break down and our bodies make new red blood cells to replace them. Babies cannot make enough new red blood cells to replace the old ones until they are about 1 month old. Once a 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 because of:

  • Blood loss. Sometimes a baby loses blood during birth.
  • Rapid breakdown of red blood cells. Red blood cells may break down faster than normal if, for example, the mother and baby do not have the same blood type.
  • Lack of red blood cell production. It may take longer than a month for some babies to start making red blood cells. This can make the anemia worse. Lack of iron or some other nutrients or infection may cause the slowed production of RBCs.
  • Premature birth. Babies born early get anemic sooner than full-term babies because they start out with fewer red blood cells and their red blood cells break down faster. They also lose blood from frequent blood tests. Many premature babies become anemic before their body can make red blood cells.

What are the symptoms?

A baby who is anemic:

  • Looks pale or has skin that looks yellowish
  • May be sleepier or more tired than normal
  • May have a fast heart rate and breathing rate when resting

How is it diagnosed?

A baby’s red blood cells can be counted with a simple blood test.

How is it treated?

Anemia is normal for newborns and does not need to be treated unless it causes a problem for the baby or the blood count drops too low.

Iron is needed to make red blood cells. Your healthcare provider may recommend that you give your baby iron drops or iron-fortified formula. Full-term babies may not need iron supplements until they are much older.

Many premature babies get anemic before their body can make red blood cells. They may need a transfusion of blood. A blood transfusion is a transfer of red blood cells from someone else (a donor) to the baby. The smaller a premature baby is, the more likely it is that the baby will need 1 or more blood transfusions in the first 2 months of life. Usually the blood is donated by volunteer donors. This is called blood bank blood. It may also be possible for family members to donate blood for the baby. This is called directed-donor blood.

How can I take care of my child?

Follow your child’s healthcare provider's instructions. Ask your provider:

  • How and when you will hear your child’s test results
  • How long it will take for your child to recover
  • How to take care of your child at home
  • How long your baby may need to be given iron supplement
  • What symptoms or problems you should watch for and what to do if your child has them

Your baby may have constipation if you are giving iron supplements or iron-fortified formula. Ask your child’s healthcare provider about giving your baby pear juice or other natural treatments if your baby seems to be having trouble passing bowel movements or is having fewer bowel movements.

Make sure you know when your child should come back for a checkup.

Developed by RelayHealth.
Pediatric Advisor 2013.2 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2013-03-25
Last reviewed: 2013-02-07
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
© 2013 RelayHealth and/or its affiliates. All rights reserved.
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