What is the Rhesus (Rh) Factor?

Rhesus Factor or Rh Factor is a protein found on the surface of the red blood cells. It is hereditary, passed down from the parent to the child. If your blood contains this protein you are Rh-positive, if your blood doesn’t you are Rh-negative. Most people are Rh-positive. As a matter of fact, only 15% of people in the world are Rh-negative and the majority of them are women.

Being Rh-positive or negative is not a bad thing, it is like your hair or eye colour in the sense that they are just inherited traits. However, Rh compatibility can be very problematic when it comes to having children.

Why is Rh Compatibility Problematic?

Rhesus factor incompatibility comes into play when a woman who is Rh-negative woman is impregnated by a man who is Rh-positive. During pregnancy, blood from the baby can cross into the mother's bloodstream. The mother’s body sees this ‘trespassing’ baby’s blood as a foreign agent and subsequently creates antibodies to fight it. Most times this happens during the delivery of the first child but there are other instances that can trigger the mother’s production of Rh-antibodies, including, miscarriages, abortions, ectopic pregnancy, abdominal trauma during pregnancy and any form of bleeding during pregnancy.

More often than not, Rh incompatibility does not create problems in the first pregnancy. However, once the Rh antibodies have been created they remain in the body till the woman’s death. So, in subsequent pregnancies, the mother's body continues to make Rh antibodies and each pregnancy becomes at risk of miscarriage due of hemolytic anaemia, a life-threatening condition where red blood cells are destroyed faster than the baby's body can replace them.

Know Your RH Factor

It is important for potential fathers, mothers and their healthcare providers to be aware of their Rh compatibility before conceiving and this can be done with a simple blood test. When doctors are aware of a pregnancy from Rh incompatible partners, they can deliver focused antenatal and prenatal care including the administration of Rh immune globulin during and after the pregnancy to prevent the mother’s body from forming the antibodies.

Cultural Concerns

In a lot of cultures, women who have been unfortunate and find themselves experiencing serial spontaneous abortions or miscarriages due to rhesus factor incompatibility have been mistreated and unfairly blamed. In some societies, they have been ostracized for being barren and condemned for being witches. This has even contributed to the degradation of external family relations. The real culprit is not the women who have done nothing wrong but ignorance about the importance of Rh compatibility.

This is why it is important to educate more men and women on the utmost importance of knowing their rhesus factor compatibility and you can help do that by sharing this article.