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Why Do Babies Get Jaundice?
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Full term babies present in the first week of life with yellow discoloration of the skin called jaundice. Red blood cells get destroyed around 4 months after formation and the byproducts of this destruction include bilirubin. A normal adult liver gets rid of almost all the bilirubin found in the blood and no skin changes occur. An immature liver like the newborns have, is unable to deal with the volume of bilirubin produced in this early stage of life.

Hyper-bilirubin is blood bilirubin of above 5 mg/dl in the blood system of the newborn. The build up of this chemical in the newborn's blood leads to discoloration of the skin, inside aspect of the mouth and the white part of the eyes to a yellow color within the first few days of life. This condition is common in newborn babies in the first week of life, about 60 percent of children get this discoloration of skin and mucous membranes. There are other conditions which are not as benign and need more attention than this physiological jaundice.

There are babies who are at risk of developing this condition at this stage of their lives, the first week after birth, and the causes differ from one situation to another. Premature infants and those delivered by assistive instruments are at risk of developing this abnormal discoloration. Mothers who have diabetes during pregnancy also have babies who are at a higher risk of developing jaundice in the first week of life.

Mothers of new-born babies should be advised to look for skin changes in the first few days after birth if they suspect that there are problems with their newborn. It is easy to check for jaundice in newborns who have lighter skin color than darker babies by just looking for the yellow tint of the skin.This is seen by pressing on the forehead or nose and when the finger leaves this area there will be a yellow tint to the skin. This is done in daylight and sunny conditions to get the best results when checking. Darker babies who have jaundice can be checked using other parts of the body in addition to the skin i.e. the white part of the eyes, the gums or the inside aspect of the mouth. Though physiological jaundice is benign, if it occurs within the first 24 hours it usually is serious and needs more attention from the doctors. More tests are then done to look for possible problems.

Babies who are breast-fed are more prone to developing early onset breastfeeding jaundice than formula fed babies. The cause of this exaggerated jaundice comes from dehydration that happens because of low output of milk from the mother, the number of times the baby feeds might not be enough to keep them well hydrated. To avoid dehydration in these babies they are fed about 12 times or more in a day and with no other forms of fluid except for the milk from mom.

When treating jaundice a special light source of ultraviolet light in health centres exposes the baby to frequencies that reverse this condition. In severe cases where the ultraviolet light does not work exchange blood transfusion becomes necessary for the baby, where there is replacement of the blood with high bilirubin in transfusion, but this is rarely done or necessary. Most babies respond well to phototherapy i.e. the ultraviolet light treatment and it takes a few days to resolve.


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