Neonatal jaundice is a yellowing of a baby’s skin and eyes.
Neonatal jaundice is a very common condition and it happens when babies have a high level of bilirubin, a yellow pigment starts producing during the normal breakdown of red blood cells.
Why does newborn babies have jaundice?
In grown-up babies and adults, the liver processes bilirubin, which then passes it through the intestinal tract.
However, a newborn baby’s still-developing liver may not be mature enough to remove bilirubin.
A relaxing part of this condition is that in most cases, neonatal jaundice recovers on its own as a baby becomes 2 weeks old, the liver develops and as the baby begins to feed properly, that helps bilirubin pass through the baby’s body.
Approximately 60% of term and 80% of preterm babies develop jaundice in the first week of life, about 10%. of breastfed babies are still jaundiced at one month of age.
The main symptom of neonatal jaundice is yellowing of the skin and the whites of the eyes.
The other symptoms of neonatal jaundice include –
A• yellowing of the palms of the hands or soles of the feet
B• dark, yellow urine (a newborn baby’s urine should be colorless)
C• pale-colored feces ( it should be yellow or orange)
The symptoms of neonatal jaundice usually develop 2 to 3 days after birth and subsequently tend to get better without treatment by the time the baby is about 2 weeks old.
There are certain specific causes for developing neonatal jaundice which includes –
1• Premature babies ( babies born before 37weeks gestation)
2• infants who aren’t getting enough breast milk
3• Babies whose blood type is not compatible with the blood type of their mother
A baby whose blood type is not compatible with that of their mother can develop a buildup of antibodies that can destroy their red blood cells and cause a sudden rise in bilirubin levels.
Other causes of neonatal jaundice include-
• liver problems
• an enzyme deficiency
• bruising at birth or another internal bleeding
• abnormality in your baby’s red blood cells
When to contact a doctor?
Most cases of jaundice are normal, but sometimes the condition of the baby needs to contact a doctor and seek medical help.
The doctor should be contacted if the following symptoms come to the notice-
• jaundice spreads more intensely
• when the baby develops a fever over 100°F( 38°C)
• yellow coloring of skin deepens
• Baby feeds poorly, appears lethargic, and makes high-pitched cries.
Risk factors –
The risk of developing significant neonatal jaundice increase in the following conditions-
1• Low birth weight
2• Prematurely born babies
3• Breastfed babies
4• Visible jaundice in the first 24 hours of baby’s birth
5• Diabetic mother’s infants
6• Male infants
7• An infection
8• Population living at high altitudes
If a baby with high levels of bilirubin is not treated, there is a risk they could develop permanent brain damage, this is known as Kernicterus.
A distinct yellow coloration of the baby confirms that a baby has jaundice, but additional tests may be needed to determine the severity of jaundice.
Babies who develop jaundice in the first 24 hours of birth should have tested for bilirubin levels immediately, either through a skin or blood test.
An increase in the level of total bilirubin by more than 0-5mg/dl per hour or 5mg/dl per 24 hours indicates neonatal jaundice.
In addition, tests may be done according to the baby’s condition –
1• Complete blood count(CBC)
2• Blood type
3• Rhesus factor (Rh) incompatibility
4• Coombs test
Mild jaundice will usually resolve on its own as a baby’s life begin to mature. Frequent feeding (8-12 times a day) will help babies to expel out bilirubin through their bodies.
If jaundice becomes more severe baby may require other treatments.
Two main treatments can be carried out in the hospital to quickly reduce the baby’s bilirubin levels. There are –
• Phototherapy –
Phototherapy is a common and highly effective method of treatment that uses light to break down bilirubin in your baby’s body.
• An exchange transfusion -In very severe cases, an exchange transfusion may be necessary for which a baby receives small amounts of blood from a donor or a blood bank.
This exchange transfusion replaces the baby’s damaged blood with healthy red blood . this transfusion increases the baby’s red blood all count and reduces bilirubin levels.
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