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Jaundice in newborns: A common health condition in infants

  • Posted on- Oct 30, 2015
  • 446 Views

Jaundice is a symptom and not a disease in itself, wherein, there is yellowing of the skin and the eyes. This yellowing is brought on by the pigment called bilirubin. It is a normal by-product of red blood cell destruction. The presence of excess bilirubin in the blood is known as hyperbilirubinemia. The liver is responsible for filtering this pigment from the bloodstream and releasing it into the intestinal tract, from where it is excreted from the body in the form of stools.

What are the causes of jaundice in newborns?

Newborn jaundice is a commonly seen condition, especially in babies born before the completion of the normal term of pregnancy. During this condition, the baby's liver is not mature enough to get rid of bilirubin in the bloodstream. During pregnancy, it is the mother's body that removes the pigment from the baby's body. However, besides the immaturity of the liver, there could be other causes of jaundice as well. They include:

  • Internal bleeding due to haemorrhages
  • A state of neonatal sepsis, i.e., widespread infection in the blood
  • Viral and bacterial infections
  • Liver malfunctioning and enzyme deficiencies
  • Abnormality in the red blood cell structure of the baby

Other accompanying symptoms, besides yellowing of the whites of the eyes and skin, include yellowing of the skin of the stomach. One simple test that will help detect the presence of jaundice in your baby is to press your finger against the skin of the baby where it is yellow. If the yellowing persists, then the baby has jaundice.

Treatment of jaundice in newborns

Many paediatricians say that it is almost normal for newborns to develop mild jaundice as the baby's liver is immature and so there is relatively slow processing of bilirubin. This kind of 'physiological jaundice in newborns' is said to show up approximately two to four days after birth and generally disappears after a week or two. Sometimes, it may occur in cases where the baby is not breastfed adequately. Newborns can become dehydrated quite easily if the feedings are too spaced out. This occurs because the deficiency of milk in the baby's body makes it harder for the baby to get rid of the waste products. In such cases, home treatment would consist of regular breastfeeding, so that, not only there are less chances of development of jaundice, but also, the milk gives the baby's liver enough energy to perform its functions and bring down the bilirubin levels. However, there are certain conditions when the mother needs to be extra careful. Those conditions include:
  • Premature babies that are born before 36 weeks and are very weak, as they weigh less than 2500 grams
  • Babies that have a blood group that is incompatible with their mother's blood group
  • Babies who show the symptoms on the arms and legs, along with the eyes
  • Babies that develop an infection in the first 24 hours after birth
  • Babies who are born after a very difficult delivery, like, they may have suffered from trauma and bruises
  • Family history of jaundice at the time of birth

For treating such cases of jaundice, phototherapy is a common option that doctors resort to. In this therapy, the baby is placed under special fluorescent lamps that convert the excess bilirubin into a water soluble form, so that it can be excreted from the body.

If the condition persists and accompanies other symptoms, like, the baby refusing to eat must be taken seriously. This is because very high levels of bilirubin could reach the brain and cause irreversible brain damage. Thus, if your newborn is suffering from jaundice, it is best to get it diagnosed and treated at the earliest.