A clinical research study reported in the latest issue of the Journal of Maternal-Fetal and Neonatal Medicine opens new doors for the newborn babies needing emergency blood transfusion. Newborn babies are often very susceptible to a variety of conditions such as low blood oxygen, infections, low birth weight and low blood hemoglobin. Such babies have a very high risk of serious complications, and almost 50 percent of such babies succumb to their illness. Close medical care, including blood transfusion is often essential as a life saving measure for such babies.
Typically, blood group compatibility is mandatory before a donor’s blood could be transfused to the baby. Since there are 4 major blood groups (A, B, AB and O), finding a perfect donor could be very challenging in emergency situations. This is a significant issue in developing parts of the world, including many parts of India, where prompt blood bank service is out of reach. Due to unavailability of blood, thousands of newborn babies die each year.
In the reported study, mother’s blood was used as an emergency treatment for her newborn baby. Dr. Sanjay Gokhale, the lead author reports that there were 51 neonates in study, all of whom received the blood transfusion from their mothers, irrespective of ABO match. 13 out of 51 babies had ABO mismatch with their mothers and did very well. The authors have postulated the concept of “Feto-Maternal” immune tolerance to explain these findings. In simple terms, since the baby grows in mother’s womb for 9 months, baby’s immune system does not react to the mother’s red blood cells, including the blood group mismatch- at least in the immediate newborn period. Authors suggest the need of larger study to verify these findings. If confirmed and accepted as a guideline, these findings could support use of mother’s blood for newborn babies needing emergency transfusions, in situations with lack of ABO compatible donor blood. In the first of its kind of the study, authors suggest that the mother’s blood could be life saving for her newborn baby, even if the mother has a different blood group compared to the newborn baby.