All You Need to Know About Jaundice In New Born’s.
Have you ever wondered why some new born babies or neo natal’s are placed under the early morning sun? With their skin pale yellow, basking under the sunlight, these little ones are not sun bathing for fun; it could be due to jaundice.
Jaundice in new born is often misconstrued to be caused by untreated malaria in the mother during pregnancy. It is also attributed to eating certain foods, especially sea food and herbs. This misconception is what this article aims to put right.
What then is Jaundice in New Born Babies?
Neonatal jaundice is a medical condition whereby the baby’s skin and the white of the eyes turn yellow a few days after birth due to excess bilirubin in the baby’s system.
Medicinenet.com gives the medical definition of neonatal jaundice as “Yellow staining of the skin and sclerae (the whites of the eyes) by abnormally high blood levels of the bile pigment, bilirubin.”
At this point you may be wondering what bilirubin is. Bilirubin is a yellow pigment, a byproduct produced in the process of the breakdown of red blood cells. It is processed and expelled from the body by the liver. It is expelled via feaces and urine.
In some new born babies, the liver is not developed enough to process and expel bilirubin so it stays in the body and causes the skin and whites of the eyes to turn yellow. This yellow pigmentation of the skin and whites of the eyes is called neonatal jaundice.
What Causes Jaundice in Newborn’s?
Jaundice, like most medical conditions is caused by certain factors such as
- Premature Birth. Babies born before 37 weeks gestation are considered premature. Premature babies are more at risk of jaundice because their liver is not matured enough to breakdown and expel bilirubin from the blood stream.
- Incompatible Mother-Child Blood Type. This is a situation where the mother and baby have discordant or different blood types. When this happens, babies develop antibodies which destroy their white blood cells and cause an increase in their bilirubin levels.
- Inadequate Feeding. Inadequate feeding in the first few days of life contributes to the development of neonatal jaundice. This mostly occurs in cases of exclusively breast fed babies. When the baby is not taking in enough milk due to illness, inadequate breast milk production, or inability to suck, it leads to dehydration. Dehydration reduces stooling, causing a decrease in the amount of bilirubin sent out of the body and blood stream. This biliburin stays in the blood stream and causes yellowing of the eyes and skin.
- Bruising/Injury at Birth. Bruising sometimes occur during the birth process especially in forceps assisted births. This bruising to the head causes an accumulation of blood under the scalp (Cephalohematoma). The breakdown of this accumulated blood causes a spike in bilirubin levels, overwhelming the still developing liver, leading to jaundice.
- Red Blood Cells Defects. Defects in red blood cell enzymes and membranes may lead to hemolysis and increase in biliburin levels, ultimately leading to jaundice.
- Other causes include infection, liver problems, and abnormal red blood cells.
Does Neo-Natal Jaundice Have Any Effects?
Despite the fact that in most cases, neo-natal jaundices clears up on its own as the baby’s liver develops and feeding improves, it is a condition that should be carefully monitored and treated. If left unattended for too long, it could lead to permanent brain damage, cerebral palsy and deafness.
How is Neo-Natal Jaundice Treated?
Treatment of jaundice depends on the severity. If it is mild, the doctor may recommend
- Timely exposure to sunlight. This is usually early in the morning before the sun gets too hot. How long the baby stays under the sun depends also on the doctor’s prescription.
- Frequent feeding. Neo-natal jaundice typically presents within 3-4 days after delivery. It is recommended that children with jaundice be fed frequently. Frequent feeding forces out excess bilirubin through the stool.
- Phototherapy may be applied in more severe cases. Phototherapy is a process in which ultraviolet light is used in the treatment of disease conditions like neo-natal jaundice. The baby is laid naked, eyes covered under the light such that the skin absorbs as much of the light as possible.
- Blood transfusion is done in very severe cases. This reduces the bilirubin in the baby’s blood stream and increases full blood count.
Can Jaundice in New Born be Prevented?
While neo-natal jaundice cannot be prevented, measures can be taken to make it less severe.
- Ensure your baby’s bilirubin levels is tested before you leave the hospital
- Check the skin closely for yellow discoloration. Report back to the hospital if the skin and eye color changes to yellow.
- Ensure your baby is properly fed and hydrated the first few days after birth.