Monday, August 20, 2012
Anemia is a common problem among premature babies in the NICU. Preemies are immature, so the systems their bodies use to make red blood cells are also immature. Even term babies have a normal period of anemia around 2 months of age, so you can imagine how anemic a preemie can get!

Most newborn babies have at least mild anemia. Infants' red blood cells break down faster than new red blood cells are made. Babies are usually at their most anemic around 2 to 3 months old, and gradually improve over the next two years. This normal anemia usually doesn't need any treatment other than a healthy diet with plenty of iron.

Because they are born early, preemies may develop more a more severe type of anemia called anemia of prematurity. In the last weeks of pregnancy, two changes occur that help full term babies to make red blood cells. First, a lot of the iron needed to make new red blood cells is transferred from the mother to baby in the third trimester. Also, in the last weeks of pregnancy, red blood cell production switches from the liver to the bone marrow. Because the processes that make new red blood cells are immature in preemies, preemies have a higher rate of anemia and their anemia is more severe than in term babies.

NICU care can make anemia in preterm infants worse. Doctors and nurses try to limit the amount of blood that's drawn for lab tests, but even small blood losses can affect very small preemies.
Anemia can only be diagnosed through a blood test. At our hospital, they took a few drop of blood from the foot. If your baby shows symptoms of anemia, doctors may do a blood test to count red blood cells (hemogloblin level) or to look at the percentage of red blood cells in the blood (hematocrit). These tests are often combined into one blood test, called an "H and H" for hemoglobin level and hematocrit.

Our 31 weeker (born at 2lb 3oz) had anemia. Thankfully, it didn’t require any blood transfusions (those are reserved for the severe cases of anemia), but upon discharge, we were instructed to give 1ml of Poly-vi-sol with iron each day (you can get this over the counter). At her one year appointment, her anemia blood test came back clean, and we were able to stop the Poly-vi-sol with iron.

The medicine tastes pretty bad (and smells worse). Therefore, I recommend mixing it with a bit of formula or breastmilk to mask the taste. You may also find that constipation is a side effect or the iron.

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Precious and priceless so lovable too, the world’s sweetest littlest miracle is, a baby like you.

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