This procedure is done when a fetus suffers from severe anemia. Anemia is a lack of red blood cells. A transfusion means giving the fetus red blood cells from a donor.

There are two types of fetal blood transfusions:

  • Intravascular transfusion (IVT)—done through the mother’s abdomen into the fetus’s umbilical cord
  • Intraperitoneal transfusion (IPT)—done through the mother’s abdomen and uterus into the fetus’s abdomen; usually only done if IVT is impossible to do because of the position of the fetus and the umbilical cord

A transfusion is needed when the fetus's blood count falls too low. Severe anemia in a fetus can cause death. Anemia can be caused by:

  • Rh incompatibility—the mother and fetus have a different type of blood, and mother’s antibodies to fetal blood cells destroy fetal blood cells
  • Parvovirus B19 infection—a viral infection in the mother
  • Twin-to-twin transfusion syndrome—can occur in twin pregnancies where development is in one chorionic sac

The goals of fetal blood transfusions are to:

  • Prevent or treat fetal hydrops before delivery—Hydrops is caused by severe anemia in the fetus, which develops into heart failure. This leads to fluid collecting in the skin, lungs, abdomen, or around the heart.
  • Continue the pregnancy so the fetus can be born close to term