Jaundice in newborns
- What is jaundice?
- What is bilirubin?
- Why are newborns particularly susceptible to jaundice?
- Does jaundice always require medical treatment?
What is jaundice?
Jaundice refers to a yellow discolouration of the skin and white part of the eyes. It is very common in newborn babies. It is caused by an excess of the chemical bilirubin in the blood.
Jaundice in newborns is also referred to as neonatal jaundice or hyperbilirubinemia.
What is bilirubin?
Haemoglobin is a molecule found in red blood cells. It is responsible for carrying oxygen to all cells in the body. Bilirubin is a normal chemical by-product of the breakdown of haemoglobin.
The body does not actually need bilirubin. Usually it travels through the blood to the liver where it is converted so that it can be removed in the urine.
If a child or adult has too much bilirubin, they become jaundiced.
Why are newborns particularly susceptible to jaundice?
While a baby is in the womb, he/she gets rid of its bilirubin through the mother's blood and liver systems. Once born, the baby then has to take over this function.
In newborn babies, the liver and intestinal systems may not have fully developed yet. Therefore they cannot excrete the bilirubin as fast as the body is making it. Jaundice results.
Many newborns develop jaundice within a few days of their birth. Premature infants are more likely to develop it because there is a bigger chance that their liver and intestinal systems aren't properly developed.
This form of jaundice is harmless and usually goes away after a few days.
Jaundice does not cause fever. If your baby has jaundice and a fever, seek medical attention as the fever is being caused by something else.
Does jaundice always require medical treatment?
No. In fact most cases of jaundice in newborns do not require any treatment. The jaundice goes away itself, usually within a few days. Jaundiced babies usually require extra fluids. It is important that your baby is checked out if they have jaundice, to ensure there is not some underlying problem or condition causing it.
Usually jaundice produces no long-terms effects in the baby.
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