Anemia in Infants: What You Need to Know

Anemia level of blood cellsSevere neonatal anemia can have serious repercussions upon infants. Immediate and proper screening is essential in preventing complications. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) suggests anemia screening between the ages of 9 to 12 months. Moreover, additional screening is also recommended from ages 1-5, giving special attention to the child’s likelihood of acquiring iron-deficiency anemia.

If your infant is diagnosed with anemia, it is crucial to arm yourself with information regarding this illness. Knowing why and how it happens and what to do can help you decide on the best action to take.

Anemia in Infants

Anemia is a health disorder in which the red blood cells count is too few, or is not functioning properly. It happens when red blood cells or RBC’s break down too rapidly at a rate faster than they can be replaced, or when the bone marrow could not produce enough RBC’s.

Too much blood loss can also lead to anemia in newborns (neonatal anemia) due to birth injury, for instance. Too much and rapid blood loss causes shock in the newborn, and they may become seriously ill. Infants that are born prematurely are also at risk of neonatal anemia.

Leading Causes of Anemia in Infants

In newborns, it is normal to have a lowered RBC concentration due to increased tissue oxygenation after birth. It is called physiologic anemia. It usually occurs without any accompanying symptoms (or asymptomatic) and stabilizes in time.

However, another type of anemia in infants called pathologic anemia is one that should be watched out for. Infants with this type of anemia have a lowered level of oxygen-transporting hemoglobin in their blood.

Here are the main causes of neonatal anemia:

  • Blood Loss

It is the most common cause of neonatal anemia. It is usually due to obstetrical incidents, like placenta abruption, placenta previa, birth trauma, in-utero blood exchange, and internal bleeding.

Healthcare providers need to conduct frequent and necessary blood tests, but it can become problematic if not properly managed. If more blood is taken from the infant than his body can replace, it may lead to anemia. In small preterm infants, blood loss can occur if too much blood is drawn for laboratory testing.

  • Red Blood Cell Destruction

A common occurrence when the mother and baby do not share the same blood type is called Rh/ABO incompatibility. RBC destruction can also be due to hereditary problems, infections, vitamin deficiencies (although this is now rare), and certain drugs.

  • Slow Production of RBC

As mentioned earlier, newborn babies naturally have a low RBC count in their blood. RBC count will normally catch up. But sometimes, their bodies could not keep up with RBC production due to anemia of prematurity. Their blood RBC concentration and hemoglobin are not only low but also have a shorter lifespan than usual. Bone marrow disorders and nutritional anemia (usually due to iron deficiency) may also be the causes of slow RBC production.

Signs and Symptoms to Look Out For

Most infants don’t display any symptoms of neonatal anemia. But when they do, here are some tell-tale signs:

  • Paleness or jaundice (yellowing of skin and eyes)
  • Lethargy or sluggishness (low energy)
  • Irritability
  • Feeding troubles (poor feeding or baby gets tired while feeding)
  • Breathing or respiratory problems
  • Irregular heart rate (too fast or too slow)
  • Hypotension

Diagnosis and Treatment Options

Neonatal anemia can be diagnosed before birth (through prenatal ultrasound) or after birth (based on symptoms and confirmed through blood tests). For newborns, anemia is diagnosed by measuring:

  • Hemoglobin – the protein in RBC that transports oxygen
  • Hematocrit – the percentage of blood that is composed of RBC
  • Reticulocytes – the percentage of immature RBC in the blood, this shows how many new cells the body produces

The treatment option depends on the case. For instance, healthy premature infants with a mild case of anemia do not require any treatment.

  • Blood transfusion is the treatment option to quickly replace blood in case of rapid blood loss.
  • In hemolytic anemia cases (where RBC is destroyed quickly), there is a need for exchange transfusion. Exchange transfusion will balance out RBC count and bilirubin levels.
  • Infants may also receive iron supplements to help increase their RBC count.
  • For the treatment of jaundice, infants may receive phototherapy (bili lights). It will help lower bilirubin levels and reverse the yellowing of skin and eyes.

Legal Help for Infant Anemia Medical Errors

Doctors should be able to promptly recognize and provide the appropriate medical management for neonatal anemia. Failure to do so can result in severe health complications that may even threaten the infant’s life.

If you believe that your baby suffered from a permanent injury due to neonatal anemia mismanagement, you may have a clear case of medical malpractice. Our skilled and knowledgeable birth injury lawyers at The Clark Law Office can help you pursue legal action.

Our compassionate yet fierce lawyers will make sure that your child will obtain the maximum possible compensation. Let’s talk about your case and how we can help you, contact us today to schedule a consultation with an experienced birth injury lawyer.


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