Learning About Anemia of Prematurity

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Anemia of prematurity means that a baby born early (prematurely) doesn't have enough red blood cells. Red blood cells carry oxygen to the body.

It's normal for babies to have some anemia at birth. But in premature babies, the number of red blood cells may decrease faster and go lower than in full-term babies. This may happen because:

  • A premature baby may not make enough red blood cells.
  • A premature baby may need tests that require blood samples. It may be hard for the baby to produce enough red blood cells to make up for the blood that's taken out for tests.
  • A baby's red blood cells don't live as long as an older child's red blood cells.

This condition is usually not serious. But low oxygen levels in a premature infant can make other problems worse, such as heart and lung problems.

This anemia usually goes away in 3 to 6 months.

What are the symptoms?

Many babies don't have symptoms. But if the red blood cells don't carry enough oxygen to the body, your baby may have trouble feeding, not gain much weight, or not be very active.

How is it diagnosed?

Your baby will be checked for symptoms of anemia. A doctor can do blood tests to diagnose this type of anemia. Your baby's blood will be tested on a regular schedule. The hospital staff will take as few blood samples as they can.

How is the anemia treated?

Babies who don't have symptoms don't need treatment. If your baby has symptoms, treatment may include iron supplements or medicine that helps your baby make red blood cells. Usually a blood transfusion is done only if a baby has severe symptoms.

Follow-up care is a key part of your child's treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor if your child is having problems. It's also a good idea to know your child's test results and keep a list of the medicines your child takes.

The Health Encyclopedia contains general health information. Not all treatments or services described are covered benefits for Kaiser Permanente members or offered as services by Kaiser Permanente. For a list of covered benefits, please refer to your Evidence of Coverage or Summary Plan Description. For recommended treatments, please consult with your health care provider.