Children’s doctor answers: What is jaundice in newborns?

A children’s doctor says jaundice in newborns is the yellowing of the skin that occurs with many newborns. A chemical called bilirubin builds up in the blood system in the baby, this is the cause of Jaundice. While pregnant, a mother’s liver is what removes bilirubin from the baby, afterwards, the baby’s liver must remove the chemical when he or she is born. The liver may not be developed enough to efficiently remove the bilirubin in some babies. When too much bilirubin starts to build up in a newborn’s body, the whites of the eyes and the skin may start to look yellow. The yellowing is called Jaundice.

What is kernicterus?

A very rare type of brain damage can occur in a newborn with severe jaundice, this is called kernicterus. Athetoid cerebral palsy, hearing loss, vision and teeth problems, and, sometimes, intellectual disabilities can be caused by kernicterus. Early detection, from your children’s doctor in Gastonia, plus proper management of jaundice may prevent kernicterus.

Signs and symptoms of newborns with jaundice

Usually appearing first on the face then moves to the rest of the body as bilirubin levels continue to rise is the first sign of jaundice. However, this can be harder to notice in babies with darker skin. Your children’s doctor in Gastonia or nurse will be able to test the level of bilirubin in the baby’s blood system.

Jaundice treatment in newborns

The level of bilirubin can determine the need to treat a newborn baby in relation to the baby’s age in hours. Treatment is necessary if the bilirubin level is considered to be too high or rising too fast. Sometimes only monitoring of bilirubin levels with no other treatment may be all that is necessary. Treatment can be done at home in special circumstances, while in other cases treatment at a hospital will be necessary.

Treatment for higher levels of bilirubin can start with the undressing of the baby and placing them under special lights. These lights do not hurt the baby at all. This can be done either at the hospital or even at home. Milk intake may need to be increased as well. In some cases, with very high levels of bilirubin, a doctor will perform a blood transfusion.

Kernicterus treatment in newborns

Feeding your newborn at least every 2 to 3 hours during the first couple of weeks is a good way to prevent jaundice, which is the leading cause of kernicterus. This will keep the bilirubin chemical moving out of the newborn’s body through the urine and stool.

If kernicterus is detected, quick treatment can help prevent further brain damage. Starting with light therapy and fluids given to the newborn intravenously (through a needle into a vein). In some cases, a baby may also have a tube placed down the throat or even into the stomach for feeding with a type of special formula.

Depending on the baby’s specific circumstances, long-term treatment may be needed. This can include, physiotherapy, speech therapy, and special education.

How is jaundice diagnosed in newborns?

You can ask the children’s doctor or nurse for a jaundice bilirubin test before leaving the hospital.

A light meter may be used to check the baby’s bilirubin levels, which is placed on the newborn’s head. A transcutaneous bilirubin level will then occur. When the level is too high, a blood test will most likely be ordered.

A small blood sample, drawn from the baby’s heel, is the best way to get an accurate bilirubin measurement. The results are called a total serum bilirubin level. If the results a high level, based on the newborn’s age in hours and other risk factors, treatment will likely begin. Blood samples will need to be repeatedly taken to monitor the levels and ensure they are decreasing after the recommended treatment.

How is kernicterus diagnosed in newborns?

Through physical examination and knowledge of the newborn’s medical history can help the doctor diagnose kernicterus. If tests show that a newborn has kernicterus, brain damage has already happened. This is why it is very important to treat jaundice as soon as possible before bilirubin levels get too high.

Top children’s doctor in Gastonia

The children’s doctor in Gastonia recommends you visit your baby’s doctor right away if you feel that your baby has jaundice. You can even ask for information on the jaundice bilirubin test. It is important to take jaundice very seriously and stick to the recommended treatment plan. Contact  Gastonia Pediatric Associates, your Gastonia area pediatricians, for top-quality pediatric care.