Jaundice in Babies

November 12, 2012

Jaundice in Babies

The origin of jaundice in babies, which is more prevalent in premature babies, is due to a buildup of the chemical bilirubin and is normally removed by the liver. Prior to the birth of the baby, bilirubin is sent via the umbilical cord and removed by the mother’s body. Once the baby is born, the liver has to remove the bilirubin and it can take a few days for a baby’s liver to function as it should. All newborn babies show high levels of bilirubin and about 60% of full term babies will display noticeable symptoms. There is no need to worry if the baby has mild jaundice and is full term and healthy as this will resolve itself. If the baby is premature or sick and has particularly high levels of bilirubin the baby will require to be monitored and treatment will be necessary.

Six out of ten newborn babies will develop jaundice which presents as a yellowish shade to the skin and the whites of the eyes have a yellow tinge. Signs and symptoms of jaundice in babies are dependent on the seriousness and origin. In a baby with moderate jaundice, the yellow shade spreads to the skin on the body. A baby with severe jaundice will have the yellowish color on the palms of their hands and the soles of their feet too. Other indications of jaundice in babies may be light colored faeces and dark urine dark along with unusual drowsiness and difficulties during feeding time.

There are other reasons for jaundice in babies developing which are not related to chemical causes. Discrepancies within Rhesus (Rh) and ABO blood groups can occur. Antibodies are produced by the mother during the late stages of pregnancy which attack the red cells of the baby. Red cells contain protein hemoglobin and damaged and old red cells are removed and broken down into their chemical component. When hemoglobin is used by the body bilirubin is produced and the liver helps to remove this as waste. As a result of this there is a possibility the baby may be born with anemia and severe jaundice can develop within hours.

Breast milk produces small amounts of colostrums in the first couple of days after the birth of the baby. Until the milk appears the limited amount of fluid received from breast feeding may delay the baby’s liver function. Particular enzymes in breast milk are thought to be a contributory factor in what is commonly known as ‘breast milk jaundice’.

Jaundice in babies can develop if the baby has neonatal hepatitis. This is caused by exposure to a viral infection either in the uterus or within its first months. Cytomegalovirus, rubella and hepatitis A, B and C can produce hepatitis in babies. Although the main causes are still unknown, in eight out of ten cases, viral infections are the main suspect.

Hereditary types of hemolytic anemia are autoimmune disorders whereby the immune system destroys the red blood cells and this is also another cause of jaundice in babies. This type of anemia can occur due to problems experienced by other disorders, e.g. malarial infection.

Galactosaemia can cause jaundice in babies. Galactose is a milk sugar and a baby with galactosaemia does not have the enzyme required to metabolize the galactose. In this case breast feeding would be stopped and specially made formulas would be used. Liver cirrhosis, and as a subsequence jaundice, can occur due to the high levels of milk sugar.

Biliary atresia requires surgery to attach a small section of the liver to the small intestine to enable the bile to drain successfully. After this surgery has been carried out, approximately 75% of patients’ bile flow will be good to moderate. A liver transplant is the alternative for the remaining 25%.

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