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Jaundice and Newborn Babies

Jaundice is a common condition in newborns that refers to a yellowish color of the skin and the whites of the eyes. This condition is caused by an excess of bilirubin in the blood. Bilirubin is produced when red blood cells are broken. Usually the liver filters the blood from the bilirubin and then excretes it through the stools. Jaundice happens to newborn babies because the liver isn’t mature enough to get rid of the excess of bilirubin.

What are the symptoms?

Jaundice usually appears 48 hours after birth. It occurs in around 60% of newborn babies and usually it is harmless. The yellow color starts on the face and spreads later on to your baby tummy, legs and hands. It also affects the whites of the eyes. You should contact your doctor once you notice these symptoms.

How many types of jaundice we have?

  • Physiological Jaundice occurs in most cases 2 to 4 days after birth. It is a mild condition of Jaundice.

  • Prematurity Jaundice occurs in premature babies and is due mainly to a premature liver.

  • Breastfeeding Jaundice is a long term Jaundice that starts at 1 week of birth and stays till the 6th week of life. It is caused by certain factors present in the mother’s milk that block proteins in the liver that are responsible of bilirubin breakage. It usually happens when the baby is not getting enough milk.

  • Blood group incompatibility Jaundice happens when the baby has a different blood group type than the mother. It starts directly after birth and can be severe. This jaundice can be prevented by administering an injection of Rh immune globulin to the mother within 72 hours after delivery which prevents any problems in future pregnancies.

What is the treatment of Jaundice?

The treatment depends on the type of jaundice your newborn have. Physiological jaundice does not need any treatment. Your doctor may recommend that you put your baby in a sunny room.

In case of high levels of bilirubin, phototherapy is required. It necessitates putting the baby under a special blue light for few days. Your baby’s eyes will be covered and he will be placed in the incubator.

In rare conditions where the unconjugated bilirubin level is very high, a blood transfusion might be needed.

What are the complications of Jaundice?

Untreated, jaundice may cause the following:

  • Acute encephalopathy: In this case, the bilirubin will pass to the baby’s brain and causes encephalopathy. The symptoms are low sucking, backward arching of the neck and body, fever, vomiting, decreased muscle tone and lethargy.

  • Kernicterus which is the permanent damage of the brain involving hearing loss, and involuntary movements.

Jaundice is a common condition that happens to 60% of newborns. It is harmless. In most cases where treatment is involved, jaundice responds well to therapy. Always contact your doctor if changes of your baby’s skin color occur.

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