Neonatal jaundice is a condition which occurs when levels of a chemical called bilirubin are not removed from the blood due to a liver which is not functioning properly, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. This causes yellow skin pigmentation. Jaundice can affect any baby, regardless of race or gender. If you or a family member has recently had a baby with this condition, you may be wondering how serious it is. Can babies die from jaundice?
Is Neonatal Jaundice a Serious Problem?
It is important to keep in mind that jaundice is a very common problem in babies. Most of the time, it is completely harmless. According to WebMD, jaundice often goes away within a few days’ time. Neonatal jaundice will generally go away on its own but in severe cases where there are higher levels of bilirubin present in the baby’s blood, treatment for jaundice may be necessary.
Can Babies Die From Jaundice?
Keep in mind that there is not a direct link between neonatal jaundice and death. Having said that, high levels of bilirubin can lead to kernicterus. Kernicterus, which is a type of brain damage, is thought to increase the risk of death in infants. This condition can also lead to hearing loss, vision problems, mental retardation, athetoid cerebral palsy and seizures among some babies who suffer from it.
While there is some risk of kernicterus among babies who have jaundice, it is important to note that it is very rare. Only about 125 babies with kernicterus were reported between the years of 1984 and 2002, according to the March of Dimes. While the numbers are thought to be increasing due to the fact that babies are released from the hospital sooner and jaundice may not be diagnosed, high levels of bilirubin are generally detected and treated before kernicterus can occur. Kernicterus tends to be a more common problem in underdeveloped countries, where babies do not receive quality medical care.
Common Signs of Neonatal Jaundice
It is important for all parents to be aware of the signs of jaundice. These signs include yellow skin, a high-pitched cry, a fever, difficulty waking up, floppy or stiffness, an arched neck or back, poor nursing, and unusual eye movements, according to the March of Dimes.
If you notice the signs of jaundice after your baby has already left the hospital, it is important to seek medical attention right away. While jaundice is often not a serious problem, some babies do require treatment if their bilirubin levels are too high.
American Academy of Pediatrics, “Question and Answers: Jaundice and Your Newborn.”
March of Dimes, “Newborn Jaundice.”
WebMD.com, “What are the Treatments for Newborn Jaundice?”