Understanding Jaundice in Babies

by Louisa Afful
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Jaundice, a condition characterized by yellowing of the skin and eyes in newborns, stems from elevated bilirubin levels in the blood, a byproduct of red blood cell breakdown. This phenomenon is common due to the liver’s immaturity in processing bilirubin efficiently in early life.

There are several types of jaundice in newborns. Physiological jaundice, the most prevalent, appears within days after birth as the infant transitions from foetal to adult haemoglobin. Typically, it resolves within a week or two as the liver matures. Breastfeeding jaundice occurs when insufficient milk intake leads to dehydration, hindering bilirubin excretion. Breast milk jaundice, on the other hand, arises from substances in breast milk that affect bilirubin absorption, often persisting for weeks.

More severe forms include haemolytic jaundice, caused by blood group incompatibilities between mother and baby, and infections or metabolic disorders affecting liver function, necessitating immediate medical attention.

Symptoms of newborn jaundice primarily manifest as yellow discoloration spreading from the face to other body parts, alongside poor feeding, lethargy, dark urine, and pale stools.

Diagnosis involves physical examinations and bilirubin level assessments using devices like bilirubinometers. Treatment varies based on severity and cause. Phototherapy, exposing the baby to special lights to break down excess bilirubin, is common. In severe cases, exchange transfusion may be required to replace the baby’s blood with donor blood.

Preventive measures include frequent feeding to prevent dehydration and monitoring newborns closely for early signs of jaundice, particularly in the first week of life. Early detection ensures timely intervention, reducing risks of complications.

In conclusion, while jaundice is generally benign in newborns, understanding its causes, recognizing symptoms, and prompt medical care are vital for managing and ensuring the health of affected infants. With proper treatment, most infants recover fully without long-term effects.

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