Overview of Neutrophils and a High White Blood Cell Count During Pregnancy

Neutrophils are white blood cells that help our bodies fight infection. During pregnancy, the number of neutrophils in the blood naturally increases in response to the extra stress that pregnancy puts on a person's body.

While a high blood cell count is normal during pregnancy, there may be signs of serious conditions.

This article will explain why the neutrophil count goes up during pregnancy, what to expect, and when to be concerned.

Midsection of pregnant Black woman holding belly
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What Are Neutrophils (White Blood Cells)?

White blood cells are part of the body’s immune system and help to protect against infection. White blood cells are made in the bone marrow and can be found in the blood and lymph tissue.

Neutrophils are white blood cells that help protect the body against infection. Once created in the bone marrow, neutrophils travel to any tissue in the body that needs them. 

How White Blood Cells Change When Pregnant

More neutrophils are released into the bloodstream from the bone marrow during stress on the body. Usually, the neutrophils found in the blood are mature. In times of stress, more immature neutrophils are released into the blood.

Immature neutrophils are bands and can be detected in a blood test. The bone marrow tends to release more bands into the blood in response to the increased number of red blood cells produced during pregnancy. 

Why Neutrophils Are High During Pregnancy

Neutrophils increase in the bloodstream during pregnancy because of the changes happening in the body. You can think of neutrophils as first responders. Any time your immune system detects a foreign body, it sends neutrophils to the blood. A release of neutrophils can trigger inflammation in the body. 

A typical range of white blood cells in healthy adults is 4,500 to 11,000 neutrophils per microliter. Any value above 11,000 neutrophils per microliter is considered a high white blood cell count (leukocytosis). During pregnancy, the white blood cell count usually increases to a range of 13,200 to 15,900 neutrophils per microliter. Most of the increased white blood cells in the bloodstream are neutrophils.

After a vaginal delivery, the WBC count drops to about 12,620 neutrophils per microliter. The value after a cesarean section (C-section) is about 12,710 neutrophils per microliter. 

Newborns also have higher WBC counts than most healthy adults. A typical range for a newborn baby is 13,000 to 38,000 neutrophils per microliter. A normal range for a 2-week-old is 5,000 to 20,000 neutrophils per microliter. The number of white blood cells in the blood decrease throughout childhood until it reaches a normal adult range of 4,500 to 1,000 neutrophils per microliter.

Medications

Medications that can raise the WBC count include:

Symptoms of a High WBC Count When Pregnant

It is normal to have a high white blood cell count during pregnancy. There are usually no signs or symptoms that can be felt or detected. 

Signs and symptoms of an elevated WBC count in nonpregnant adults may include:

  • Fever
  • Swelling
  • Bruising
  • Bleeding
  • Fatigue
  • Weakness
  • Night sweats 
  • Unintentional weight loss 

When to Seek Treatment

Many pregnant individuals experience more white blood cells during their pregnancies. It’s important to note that the WBC count can also be elevated for other reasons. Serious conditions, such as certain malignancies, may increase the WBC count. 

Signs of a serious condition may include:

  • Fever
  • New-onset pain
  • Severe fatigue 
  • Night sweats
  • Easy bruising or bleeding 
  • Any weight loss 
  • Breathing difficulties 

An increased neutrophil count during pregnancy may also be linked to gestational diabetes. There are usually no signs or symptoms to look for with this condition. It’s important to receive regular prenatal care so your healthcare provider can detect pregnancy complications as soon as possible. 

Summary

Neutrophils are a type of white blood cell that helps our bodies fight off infection. During pregnancy, the number of neutrophils in the blood naturally increases in response to the extra stress that pregnancy puts on a person’s body. A normal range of white blood cells in healthy, non-pregnant adults is 4,500 to 11,000 neutrophils per microliter. The WBC count may increase during pregnancy and range from 13,200 to 15,900 neutrophils per microliter. Most of the increased white blood cells in the bloodstream are neutrophils. 

A Word From Verywell

When you are pregnant, numerous changes are going on in your body. It can be challenging to know which changes are regular and which ones are problematic. Talk to your healthcare provider if you are concerned about your blood values. Several blood tests are taken during pregnancy, so your healthcare provider will continue monitoring your white blood cell count. 

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How high will neutrophils go during pregnancy?

    The white blood cell count during pregnancy usually increases to 13,200 to 15,900 per mm. Most of the increased white blood cells in the bloodstream are neutrophils. 

  • Will neutrophils remain high after pregnancy?

    No, neutrophils and other white blood cells will decrease after childbirth. After a vaginal delivery, the WBC count drops to about 12,620 per mm. The value after a cesarean section is about 12,710 per mm. The WBC count will continue to decrease to a normal range over time.

  • Will a high neutrophils (white blood cell) count during pregnancy lead to any other conditions?

    Research shows that a high neutrophil count during pregnancy may be associated with gestational diabetes. This may be due to the increased amount of inflammation in the body.

8 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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