Non Chronic Childhood Conditions Newborn Jaundice

Jaundice, particularly prevalent among newborn babies, is a condition marked by a yellow discoloration of the skin and eyes. Although some people refer to the condition as “yellow jaundice,” this term is largely redundant as the word jaundice comes from the French word jaune, meaning yellow.

Jaundice isn’t actually a disease. It’s the result of a buildup of molecules of bilirubin, a by-product of the breakdown of red blood cells. Jaundice usually disappears in a week or two and causes no discomfort to the infant.

Causes of Infant Jaundice

Babies are born with a rich supply of red blood cells that transport oxygen throughout the body. As the body continually produces new red blood cells, the liver is in charge of breaking down old ones.

Bilirubin, a waste product from this breakdown, travels through the blood to the liver, where it’s processed and excreted from the body. In fact, this brownish substance is responsible for making feces brown.

Because the baby’s liver isn’t fully developed yet, the infant’s body can experience a backup of bilirubin, as the liver can’t keep up with its disposal responsibilities. This causes an excess of bilirubin to build up in the blood, giving the skin and the whites of the eyes a yellow tinge.

Although jaundice results from a liver malfunction (in that it isn’t working fast enough), this condition isn’t a symptom of liver failure. In almost all cases, the liver simply isn’t quite mature enough to handle the load, making the condition temporary. This type of jaundice, common in infants, is called physiologic jaundice. Premature babies are particularly susceptible to jaundice, as their livers are even less mature than those of full-term babies.

Mothers, Babies and Jaundice

Some types of jaundice occur because the mother’s blood type and the baby’s blood type are incompatible. This means that the mother’s immune system may see the baby’s blood cells as foreign invaders and attempt to destroy them. Fortunately, these conditions are monitored before birth and rarely progress to a point where the baby’s health is at risk.

Jaundice and Breast Milk

A few weeks after birth, some babies develop breast milk jaundice. Although the exact cause of breast milk jaundice remains unknown, doctors believe that this type of jaundice results from a hormone in breast milk that slows down the liver’s processing of bilirubin.If the infant requires treatment, the doctor may recommend the simple cessation of breastfeeding for 24 hours. The mother must clearly understand that nothing is wrong with her breast milk and that breastfeeding should resume after a day.

Symptoms of Jaundice

The orange-yellow tinge to the skin and sometimes to the eyes is the only visible symptom of jaundice. In general, the yellow color tends to appear first on the face and then spread to the trunk and the extremities.Most babies develop jaundice at birth or immediately after. If a baby displays signs of jaundice, hospital staff will closely monitor the levels of bilirubin in his blood. An increase in bibirubin levels may require treatment so that the bilirubin does not reach toxic levels. While discolored eyes and skin is the main symptom of jaundice, keep in mind that these symptoms can be indicative of other conditions, including a malfunction of the liver, infection or red blood cell abnormalities in older children.

Treatments for Jaundice

More than half of newborn babies have jaundice at some time, particularly if they’re born prematurely. The majority of cases need no treatment due to the fact that the yellowing generally disappears within 10 days.Treatment for jaundice generally ensues if the bilirubin levels don’t decrease at a normal rate or if the baby is experiencing other types of distress. The typical treatment for jaundice is phototherapy using the bililight. During jaundice treatment, the baby’s eyes are shaded and his skin is exposed to fluorescent lights that help to break down the bilirubin.

While some babies sleep peacefully through the process, others seem to miss their tight blankets. The procedure is discontinued as soon as possible, usually after just one or two days. In past decades, babies were exposed to sunlight to reduce billirubin. However, this has obvious disadvantages, such as risk for sunburn.If phototherapy doesn’t do the trick, the baby may have to undergo a blood transfusion. Donor blood or saline is exchanged for the baby’s blood until safe levels of billirubin are reached.

Resources

CNN.com. (April, 2005). Infant jaundice. Durso, B. (updated July, 2000).

Jaundice. Neonatal jaundice. (nd). Facts about jaundice.

University of California San Francisco Children’s Hospital. (reviewed March, 2004). Jaundice.