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Newborn Jaundice

Newborn Jaundice Facts

  • Jaundice is a yellow discoloration of the skin and the white part (the sclera) of the eyes. It results from having too much of a substance called bilirubin in the blood.
  • Bilirubin is formed when the body breaks down old red blood cells. The liver usually processes and removes the bilirubin from the blood.
  • Jaundice in babies usually occurs because of a normal increase in red blood cell breakdown and the fact that their immature livers are not efficient at removing bilirubin from the bloodstream.

Newborn Jaundice Causes

Jaundice in newborns most commonly occurs because their livers are not mature enough to remove bilirubin from the blood. Jaundice may also be caused by a number of other medical conditions.

  • Physiologic jaundice is the most common form of newborn jaundice. The baby's liver plays the most important part in bilirubin breakdown. The type of bilirubin that causes the yellow discoloration of jaundice is called unconjugated or indirect bilirubin. This form of bilirubin is not easily removed from the baby's body. The baby's liver changes this unconjugated bilirubin into conjugated or direct bilirubin, which is easier to excrete. The liver of a newborn baby is immature, so the job of conjugating and removing bilirubin is not done completely well. This causes an elevation of bilirubin, which results in the yellow discoloration of the baby's eyes skin. As the breakdown of red blood cells slows down, and the baby's liver matures, the jaundice rapidly disappears. When jaundice is due to these factors alone, it is termed physiologic jaundice.
  • Neonatal jaundice can be seen in cases of maternal-fetal blood type incompatibility. The mother's body will actually produce antibodies that attack the fetus's blood cells. This causes a breakdown of the red blood cells and thus an increased release of bilirubin from the red cells.
  • Healthy red blood cells can be destroyed in a condition called hemolysis.
  • Polycythemia is a condition in which a child is born with an excess of red blood cells.
  • A large scalp bruise called a cephalohematoma can occur during the birthing process. Such a bruise is really a collection of clotted blood just beneath the skin surface. As the body naturally breaks down this clotted blood, a large amount of bilirubin is released at once. This sudden excess in serum bilirubin may be too much for the baby's liver to handle, and jaundice will develop.
  • Sometimes a baby swallows blood during birth. This swallowed blood is broken down in the baby's intestines and absorbed into the bloodstream. Just as the excess blood from a blood clot will cause a rise in serum bilirubin, so will this.
  • A mother who has diabetes may cause a baby to develop neonatal jaundice.
  • Crigler-Najjar syndrome and Lucey-Driscoll syndrome are also conditions that can cause jaundice.
Last Reviewed 11/17/2017
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Newborn Jaundice Definition

Neonatal jaundice: Yellowish staining of the skin and whites of the newborn's eyes (sclerae) by pigment of bile (bilirubin). In newborn babies a degree of jaundice is normal. It is due to the breakdown of red blood cells (which release bilirubin into the blood) and to the immaturity of the newborn's liver (which cannot effectively metabolize the bilirubin and prepare it for excretion into the urine). Normal neonatal jaundice typically appears between the 2nd and 5th days of life and clears with time.

Neonatal jaundice is also referred to as neonatal hyperbilirubinemia and physiologic jaundice of the newborn.

SOURCE: Neonatal Jaundice.

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