Health Information and Tools > Patient Care Handouts >  Learning About Anemia of Prematurity
Facebook Tweet Share

Main Content

Learning About Anemia of Prematurity

What is anemia of prematurity?

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

All babies have some anemia when they are born. This is normal. 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 and used in the 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.

What are the symptoms?

If the red blood cells do not carry enough oxygen to the body, your baby may:

  • Have trouble feeding.
  • Not gain much weight.
  • Not be very active.

What can you expect when your baby has this condition?

  • Your baby will be watched for symptoms of anemia.
  • Your baby's blood will be tested on a regular schedule. The hospital staff will take as few blood samples as possible.
  • The anemia usually goes away in 3 to 6 months. After 1 year, the red blood cell level of a premature baby is usually the same as in full-term babies.

How is the anemia treated?

Many babies don't have symptoms and don't need treatment. If your baby has symptoms, treatment may include:

  • Iron or vitamin E supplements.
  • Medicine that helps your baby make red blood cells.
  • A blood transfusion. This is usually only done if your 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 or nurse advice line (811 in most provinces and territories) 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.

Care instructions adapted under license by your healthcare professional. If you have questions about a medical condition or this instruction, always ask your healthcare professional. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information.