When 27-year-old Jennifer Juarez gave birth to a baby girl in December 2013, she knew something had gone wrong. The Fountain Valley, Calif. mother-to-be told ABC News the newborn was “really pale” when she first came out of the womb. When doctors tried to measure the baby’s oxygen levels by pricking her toe to draw blood, they could barely squeeze out a drop.
Doctors determined Juarez’s baby had suffered from fetal-maternal hemorrhaging, a rare condition that caused the 6 pound, 2 ounce girl to lose more than 80 percent of her blood inside the womb. When doctors measured the baby’s hemoglobin levels, they found them to be about 3.8; normal babies’ hemoglobin should be between 10 and 15.
Juarez first knew something wasn’t right when her baby stopped kicking a few weeks before she was due. That’s when doctors performed an emergency C-section three weeks early.
"We have seen this, but not often," Dr. Marielle Nguyen, a neonatologist at Irvine Medical Center, where Jaurez’s baby was born, told ABC News. "In Hope's case, her outcome was beautiful because it was the classic textbook case they tell you about. The mom knew right away that she had a clue something was wrong. She couldn't feel the baby move. And she came in right away and we delivered the baby. If we had waited any longer, the outcome would have been different."
Most babies lose some blood during pregnancy. Very rarely do babies lose as much blood as Juarez’s daughter did. Doctors say while the condition is a serious and potentially deadly one, babies do survive it. Another recently documented case of a newborn surviving fetal-maternal hemorrhaging occurred in 2012 in the U.K.
According to the National Institutes of Health, fetomaternal hemorrhaging can have dire consequences. Newborns can often die or suffer neurological injuries.
“Antenatal fetomaternal hemorrhage is a pathological condition with a wide spectrum of clinical variation,” the Institute notes. “Secondary to the resultant anemia, fetomaternal hemorrhage may have devastating consequences for the fetus such as neurologic injury, stillbirth, or neonatal death.”
Doctors aren’t sure about exactly what causes fetal-maternal hemorrhaging. In some cases, trauma, such as the mother being involved in a car or motorcycle accident, can lead to hemorrhaging in the womb. Other times, it’s “spontaneous.”
The hospital will continue to monitor Juarez’s daughter for any signs of delayed development, but so far everything seems normal.