In a Nutshell
Jaundice describes yellowing of the skin and is common in the first few weeks of life. For some babies, however, it can lead to damage to the brain and nervous system if it is not picked up and treated promptly. The harmful effects can be more severe in babies who are born prematurely, are small and or are unwell for other reasons. The damage caused by jaundice to babies in the first few weeks of life can lead to difficulty with controlling movement (cerebral palsy) and hearing loss.
What Is Jaundice And Why Are Babies Affected?
Jaundice, or yellowing of the skin, is caused by a build-up of a waste product called bilirubin. When in the womb, the bilirubin in a baby’s blood is removed when it passes into the mother’s blood and is broken down in the mother’s liver. After being born, a baby’s liver is immature and cannot always break down enough bilirubin and the high levels of bilirubin in the blood causes a yellowing appearance of the skin and the white areas of the eyes. The yellowing of the skin can be harder to see in babies with a darker skin colour.
Which Babies Need Careful Monitoring After Birth?
- Preterm babies
- Babies with a darker skin color
- Babies with a family history or from certain ethnic backgrounds including East Asian or Mediterranean families
- Babies born to mothers with O blood type or who have a rhesus negative blood factor
- Babies whose sibling was jaundiced
- Babies not feeding well
- Babies with bruising at birth
- Babies who develop an infection soon after birth
- Babies who develop jaundice in the first 48 hours of life
What Should I Do If I Think My Baby Is Jaundiced
If you notice that your baby may be jaundiced then seek medical advice. If your baby is not feeding, has a fever, has very pale stools, is difficult to wake or sleepy, is very difficult to settle, or has fewer wet and dirty diapers than usual then your baby should be assessed urgently. Treatment can prevent damage to a baby’s brain and so needs to be started promptly.
Picking up and treating jaundice promptly can completely avoid damage to a baby’s brain. If you have concerns that your baby may have been affected by jaundice in the first few weeks of life then please get in touch for a free consultation.