Sickle cell trait (SCT) and sickle cell disease (SCD) may impact a person’s pregnancy in various ways.

SCD is the name for a group of genetic disorders that affect a person’s red blood cells. SCT means a person has inherited the sickle cell gene from one parent.

This article will explain whether SCT affects pregnancy and the likelihood of a person passing it on to a baby. It will also outline how to manage SCD pain during pregnancy and complications that can arise for a pregnant person and their fetus.

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Healthy red blood cells have a rounded disk shape. These cells move through small vessels carrying oxygen to different parts of the body. With SCD, the red blood cells become hard, sticky, and C-shaped. Doctors also refer to this C shape as sickle-shaped.

These sickle-shaped cells die early, which can cause a person to have a continual shortage of red blood cells. The cells may also get stuck and clog blood flow when they pass through small blood vessels. This can cause a person to experience pain and other problems such as infections and stroke.

If a person receives a sickle cell gene from each parent, they will have SCD. However, if they receive a sickle cell gene from one parent and a healthy gene from the other parent, they will have SCT.

SCT may affect a person’s pregnancy. There is some evidence that having SCT may increase the risk of having a stillbirth.

One 2021 cohort study looked at 50,560 people and 63,334 births. This included 2,482 deliveries from people with SCT. It also included 215 deliveries from people with SCD.

The study suggested that people who had SCT and SCD were at an increased risk of having a stillbirth compared with people who did not.

The authors of the study concluded that people with SCT would benefit from having additional risk assessments during pregnancy to lower their chances of adverse events.

Another cohort study from 2016 assessed the risks of adverse pregnancy outcomes in people with SCT. Researchers compared 223 pregnant people with normal hemoglobin and 16 people with SCT.

Their results suggested that people with SCT were not at an increased risk for adverse pregnancy outcomes, including:

Parents can pass SCT on to their babies.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), if both parents have SCT, there is a 50% chance that their baby will also have SCT. This is because a person only needs to inherit one sickle cell gene from one of their parents to have SCT.

People with SCT will not show symptoms of SCD but can pass on SCT to their children in the future.

If both parents have SCT, there is also a 25% chance that their baby will have SCD and a 25% chance that the baby will have neither SCD nor SCT.

If just one parent has SCT, there is a 50% chance their baby will have SCT.

Testing for SCT and SCD during pregnancy

It is possible to find out whether a fetus has SCT or SCD using one of these tests:

  • Chorionic villus sampling: This test checks a sample of tissue from the placenta for genetic conditions and congenital anomalies, also known as birth defects. Doctors usually perform it at 11–14 weeks of pregnancy.
  • Amniocentesis: This test checks fluid from the amniotic sac around the baby. Amniocentesis is available at 15–20 weeks of pregnancy.

While a person with SCT does not feel pain related to their SCT, a person with SCD can experience SCD-related pain during pregnancy.

The CDC states that a person may be able to reduce their chances of experiencing SCD-related pain by:

  • drinking plenty of water
  • avoiding getting too hot or too cold
  • avoiding being exposed to high altitudes, such as during flying, mountain climbing, or in cities with high altitude
  • avoiding situations with exposure to low oxygen levels, such as mountain climbing and intensive exercise

If a pregnant person with SCD is experiencing SCD-related pain, they should ask a doctor for advice about pain medications that are safe to take during pregnancy, such as acetaminophen.

If a pregnant person has SCD, they are more likely to develop problems during their pregnancy than someone without SCD. These problems can affect the pregnant person’s health and the health of the fetus.

SCD can become more severe during pregnancy, and the person may experience more frequent episodes of SCD-related pain.

Pregnancy in people with SCD is also associated with an increased risk of death for both the pregnant person and the fetus.

However, thanks to improved healthcare facilities, antibiotics, vaccinations, and the availability of certain drugs such as hydroxyurea, the life expectancy of people with SCD has improved.

According to a 2016 study, other pregnancy complications associated with SCD include:

A 2020 study of active duty service women, 84% of whom were Black, confirmed that subjects who tested positive for SCD had a higher rate of preeclampsia than those who tested negative.

The CDC states that SCD affects African Americans at much higher rates than people of other ethnicities.

Learn more here.

SCD can cause damage to the small blood vessels in the body. This can cause decreased circulation to the placenta and uterus.

Decreased blood flow to the placenta and uterus during pregnancy can cause a pregnant person to have an increased risk of experiencing pregnancy loss and stillbirth.

If a person with SCD becomes pregnant, they should tell their doctor. Despite the increased risk of complications, a pregnant person with SCD can have a healthy pregnancy with regular prenatal care and careful monitoring.

A person with SCT should also tell their doctor about their SCT if they become pregnant. They may also wish to see a genetic counselor.

This individual can teach the parent more about SCD. They can also tell them about the chances that their baby may have SCD or SCT.

If you are affected by SCT, you should make sure to follow your doctor’s recommendations or see a maternal fetal medicine specialist (MFM) prior to conception.

A person with one sickle cell gene will have sickle cell trait (SCT). SCT does not cause the same symptoms as sickle cell disease (SCD).

A pregnant person with SCT may be at a slightly higher risk of stillbirth than a person who does not have SCT. However, SCT most likely does not increase their risk of other complications.

If a person with SCT has a baby with another person with SCT, there is a 50% chance that the baby will have SCT. There is also a 25% chance the baby will have SCD.

People with SCD are at a higher risk of a number of pregnancy complications, including anemia, infections, increased SCD pain, preeclampsia, premature birth, and stillbirth.

If a person with SCT or SCD becomes pregnant, they should make their doctor aware of their SCT or SCD so they can receive the appropriate care.