A blood transfusion is a procedure where you receive blood through an intravenous (IV) line into one of your blood vessels. There are two primary reasons you made need a blood transfusion while pregnant. These include the development of severe anemia or hemorrhaging at some point during your pregnancy.
Anemia is a condition commonly caused by iron deficiency which occurs because you have fewer red blood cells in your blood vessels or the oxygen-carrying part (the hemoglobin) of these blood cells is decreased. We check for this during pregnancy by a blood test which measures the hemoglobin. While it may be difficult to pinpoint exact causes of anemia, treatment includes taking extra iron along with your prenatal vitamins. In cases of severe anemia, you may be referred to a blood specialist called a hematologist for further evaluation.
Hemorrhaging is bleeding excessively in an urgent situation which can lead to severe anemia. A transfusion is often required in order to counteract excessive blood loss which can occur at any time during pregnancy. Hemorrhage can occur during a miscarriage, ectopic pregnancy, labor, during and immediately following delivery. While we try to prevent the need for a blood transfusion, under some conditions it is absolutely necessary to save you and your baby’s life. You can decline a blood transfusion, but be aware that under some circumstances a blood transfusion is the only way to keep you alive.
Our nation’s blood supply is very safe and high in quality. Nothing in life is risk-free; however, the risks associated with blood transfusion are very small. The chance that a unit (pint) of blood will transmit the HIV virus (which causes AIDS) or hepatitis C is about 1 in 2 million. Although the risk for other serious infections exist, that risk is much less than the annual risk of dying in a motor vehicle accident in the United States (1 in 7,000). Blood donated by directed donors (family members or friends) has not been shown to be safer than blood from unknown, volunteer donors. In some cases it may be less safe because donors known to the patient may not be truthful about their personal history.
If you have any questions about your options for blood transfusion, please ask us during your pregnancy.