The infant is laid on his or her back, usually under a radiant warmer. The umbilical vein is catheterized with a fluid-filled catheter. The catheter is connected to an exchange transfusion set, incorporating lines to and from a waste container and a pack of donor blood. These are connected by means of a four-way stopcock, to which is also attached the syringe used to remove and replenish the infant's blood.
The exchange transfusion now goes ahead in cycles, each of a few minutes duration. Slowly the infant's blood is withdrawn, and the fresh, pre-warmed blood or plasma is injected. After the exchange transfusion, an umbilical catheter may be left in place in case the procedure needs to be repeated within a few hours.
Review Date 2/2/2021
Updated by: Neil K. Kaneshiro, MD, MHA, Clinical Professor of Pediatrics, University of Washington School of Medicine, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.