Baby jaundice is a condition where the white part of the baby’s eye and its skin appears yellow. This condition is considered common as it affects almost over 50% of all newborns. The condition is very common among premature babies, especially boys, and it appears in the first week of life in most cases.
You also don’t have a lot of reasons to worry if your baby is born at full term. Jaundice will go away on its own in most cases and will rarely be a cause for alarm. Baby jaundice causes panic among parents most of the time because the illness is dangerous for adults. The treatment for baby jaundice is necessary in rare cases, so make sure you respond to the doctor’s therapy. Not taking therapy may lead to serious brain damage or even death.
Potential Risk Factors
Before you try to understand what causes baby jaundice and what baby jaundice treatment should you practice, take a look at some common risk factors for the illness.
- Breast-feeding – some babies are not able to get enough calories or nutrients from breast milk. This results in dehydration and may lead to jaundice.
- Premature birth – babies that are born prematurely have fewer bowel movements and severely underdeveloped livers. This means that they filter and get rid of bilirubin much slower.
- Birth bruising – this will result in high bilirubin levels because bruising can cause faster breaking down of red blood cells.
- ABO or Rhesus incompatibility – mother’s antibodies will attack the red blood cells of the baby, event through the placenta, if they have different blood types. This may cause an accelerated break down.
Baby Jaundice Symptoms
Jaundice will move from the head and start involving trunk, arms, and legs if the baby’s bilirubin levels are high. You will be able to notice jaundice even below your child’s knees and over the palms of the hand if it has very high levels of bilirubin. Press your finger against your child’s skin to mini-test your baby’s jaundice. Pushing against a skin will leave the skin white after you lift the finger if everything is fine. However, if the skin stays yellow after pushing it you could probably say that your child suffers from jaundice.
Adults and older children appear jaundiced if the presence of bilirubin in their blood is above 2mg/dL. On the other hand, a newborn will appear jaundiced only if they have about 5mg/dL. This is why it is really important to treat and recognize neonatal jaundice since it may lead to severe brain damage, as already mentioned. Baby jaundice causes brain damage called kernicterus. However, the effective treatment and increased awareness result in very few cases of kernicterus today.
There are no clinical symptoms that jaundice produces. However, these are the main things you need to pay attention to if you suspect your child has jaundice:
- Poor feeding
- Ill appearance
As already mentioned, jaundice usually appears in newborns because their livers can’t properly remove bilirubin from the blood. However, there are a number of other medical conditions that might cause jaundice.
The most common type of baby jaundice is physiologic jaundice. The most important role in breaking down bilirubin in the baby’s liver. Indirect or unconjugated bilirubin is the reason why babies experience yellow discoloration due to jaundice. A baby is not able to remove this type of bilirubin very easily from its body. Consequently, the baby’s liver then transforms this type of bilirubin into direct or conjugated bilirubin to make excretion a lot easier. Due to the immaturity of the newborn’s liver, this process can’t be done properly. This is the reason why bilirubin gets elevated and then jaundice appears in a form of discoloration.
Jaundice rapidly disappears as the baby’s liver matures and the breakdown of red blood cells slows down. Physiologic jaundice is a term when jaundice is due to these factors alone. There’s a proper baby jaundice treatment for this condition, so you don’t have to be exceptionally worried.
As mentioned above, maternal-fetal blood type incompatibility may result in neonatal jaundice. Unfortunately, mom’s body produces antibodies that will attack the blood cell in the fetus. This directly impacts the red blood cells and results in increased bilirubin release from the red cells.
Hemolysis is another condition that destroys healthy red blood cells.
The birthing process may result in a cephalohematoma, which is actually a large scalp bruise. This bruise is actually a lot of clotted blood under the skin. A large amount of bilirubin will be released at once when the body naturally starts breaking down this clotted blood. Jaundice may develop due to the excess bilirubin that your child’s baby might not be able to handle.
Another uncommon reason for jaundice may be swallowing the blood during birth. Yes, this happens sometimes to babies and the blood your child maybe swallowed will break down in the intestines and your baby will absorb it into the bloodstream. Similarly to previously mentioned baby jaundice causes, this one will raise bilirubin levels – resulting in jaundice.
Neonatal jaundice may be developed due to the mother’s diabetes.
Two less common causes for baby jaundice are Lucey-Driscoll and Crigler-Najjar syndromes.
Your baby might suffer from an underlying disorder that may cause baby jaundice. This type of jaundice will show symptoms much later or much earlier than normal jaundice would. Here are some conditions and diseases that can cause this type of baby jaundice:
- Enzyme deficiency
- Bacterial and vital infections
- Blood infection (sepsis)
- Live malfunction
- Hemorrhage (internal bleeding)
Diagnosing Baby Jaundice
You have to know exactly what’s causing your baby’s jaundice to begin with the right baby jaundice treatment. Usually, your baby’s pediatrician will be able to determine what the exact cause is. However, your baby will have to take some blood tests in some cases.
Usually, doctors will check for the bilirubin levels in your child’s blood. Depending on the results of that test your doctor may request some more tests to be done. There are some tests that don’t require drawing blood from your child in order to check the bilirubin levels, like BiliCheck. This tool is something you can find probably at most outpatient offices, clinics, and newborn nurseries.
Your doctor may request for a Coombs test which will determine if there are antibodies that are destroying your baby’s red blood cells. In addition, a complete blood count may be ordered by the doctor.
Most certainly, a reticulocyte count will be performed. This is just to stay sure that your baby’s body is able to produce enough new red blood cells.
People of Mediterranean descent are prone to certain red blood cell diseases. This is why they may be necessary to do tests for a G6PD deficiency.
You can easily help your child’s liver to process bilirubin more easily if you provide it with enough sun. Sunlight is known to help in breaking down the indirect bilirubin. Mild jaundice may be cured if you put your child in a well-lit window for about 10 minutes, two times a day. However, your infant shouldn’t be placed in direct sunlight.
Your child will maybe be placed under a special type of light if the bilirubin level is too high. People usually refer to this treatment as phototherapy. You will sometimes be able to place such lights at your home, but you will have to monitor them carefully. Consult with your doctor to determine if it’s time to begin with this kind of therapy.
There will be a need for hospital treatment if your infant appears ill or if the bilirubin levels are way too high.
Treating Baby Jaundice
As already mentioned, phototherapy is usually the best treatment for significant jaundice. This means that your baby should be placed under a special light. These lights then affect the bilirubin in your child by penetrating the baby’s skin. The main reason for this is to change bilirubin into lumirubin. Your baby is able to handle lumirubin a lot better. You will notice that this treatment is very similar to a tanning booth. A special shade or goggles will be put over your baby’s eyes so they stay protected during the process.
The level of bilirubin and your child’s age will be crucial factors in determining if there’s a need for phototherapy. Usually, ones who will be getting this treatment are younger kids with high bilirubin levels. You will be the one to decide if phototherapy should begin if your baby’s pediatricians think that this treatment is necessary.
The doctor may try other treatments if standard phototherapy doesn’t work. Placing a baby on a fiber-optic blanket and adding more lights is one of the next steps that will probably be taken.
There will probably be an underlying problem causing jaundice if none of these treatments work. However, the most common form of jaundice is physiologic and it is usually treated with phototherapy.
The last resort is an exchange transfusion if all the other treatments fail to reduce bilirubin levels in your child’s blood. This treatment is very straightforward; your child’s blood will be changed with donated blood. The procedure is very specialized and is usually done in facilities made for treating critically ill children.
Baby Jaundice Prevention
Usually, there is nothing you can do to prevent baby jaundice. However, you can try to avoid it by giving your child enough fluids every day. Also, you should speak to a lactation consultant if you have any concerns or questions regarding breastfeeding or even if you use a baby bottle to feed your baby. You will find one in a lot of hospitals and hopefully, you can get an answer to your doubts.
Another thing you should definitely do is to enroll in formal training in child CPR. Learning these skills is quite easy, but they may help you save your child’s life in crucial moments.
As already mentioned a couple of times, serious complications might occur if severe baby jaundice is not being treated properly.
Acute bilirubin encephalopathy is a condition that might occur due to improper treatment of baby jaundice. As you know, bilirubin is toxic to brain cells. There’s a risk of bilirubin passing into the brain if a baby has severe jaundice. Accurate treatment may prevent life-threating damage that this condition can make.
Here are some signs of the condition that you need to pay attention to.
- Difficulty waking
- Poor feeding or sucking
- High-pitched crying
- Backward arching of the body and neck
Another threating condition is kernicterus. This is a condition that happens due to the acute bilirubin encephalopathy. Kernicterus will cause permanent damage to the brain and there’s no treatment for it. These are the consequences of the condition:
- Hearing loss
- Permanent upward gaze
- Uncontrolled movements
- Bad tooth enamel development
Baby Planet Overview
Baby jaundice is not something you should have to worry about. Of course, there could be complications if there’s no proper treatment for the condition. But, it is your job as a parent to notice symptoms in time and take your child to a doctor. Baby’s pediatrician will eventually come up with a treatment and jaundice should be gone in no time. The condition shouldn’t be reoccurring if everything was done properly, but even if it does you still don’t have to panic. Doctors will eventually come up with a proper method to treat your child and it should be fine soon.
Phototherapy is one of the best methods when it comes to treating baby jaundice and it is the one that doctors usually recommend. The procedure is very simple and straightforward and your baby should have no problems going through it as long as it has goggles that protect baby’s eyes. Serious jaundice problems are very rare thanks to modern medicine and findings of the disease. Track how your child progress through the treatment to be sure that the illness is going away.
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- Neonatal Jaundice , ncbi.nlm.nih.gov