Babies and ChildrenBilirubin and jaundice in newborns

Bilirubin and jaundice in newborns

Jaundice in newborns is normal, as a result of increased bilirubin in the blood.  Know what its symptoms are, what causes it and what medical treatment is the most recommended.

When we talk about the different functions of the gallbladder, we must also talk about bile, a greenish-yellow liquid originally produced by liver cells or hepatocytes, which fulfills the function of helping in the digestion process, and facilitating its time the absorption of fats.

The bilirubin, which is a compound resulting from the degradation of hemoglobin of red- blood cells consisting of a pigment yellowish found in the bile liquid further contains bilirubin other substances such as cholesterol and bile acids.

When bilirubin increases in the blood, it can lead to the presence of jaundice, a condition that causes a yellow coloration in both the skin and the eyes (specifically in the sclera, that is, the white of the eye) and in the different mucous membranes.

It is a common disorder in newborns, so it is common for them to observe a yellowish color on their skin and the white of the eye, caused precisely by an excess of bilirubin in the blood.

Why does bilirubin increase and jaundice appear in newborns?

Since jaundice occurs when bilirubin accumulates in the blood, in the case of newborns it is mainly due to the fact that their small liver is not yet capable of breaking it down and eliminating it quickly enough, since it is still developing.

However, several causes can be established:

  • The newborn’s intestines reabsorb a greater amount of bilirubin before it is eliminated through the feces.
  • As we indicated before, the liver is still developing and is not fully capable of eliminating the adequate amount of bilirubin in the blood so that it does not accumulate.
  • Manufacture of a greater amount of bilirubin than adults, a normal condition since they renew red blood cells more often.

Types of jaundice in newborns

  • Physiological jaundice: considered normal, it is the one that usually occurs in most newborns, as a consequence of the immaturity of the child’s liver. It appears between the second and fifth day of life, and tends to disappear when the newborn is between one to two weeks old.
  • Jaundice associated with breast milk or breastfeeding: jaundice can be caused by certain substances in breast milk, or when the baby is not getting enough milk. This type of jaundice appears between the first three and five days of life, gradually improving in the following weeks.
  • Premature jaundice: It is common for premature babies, taking even longer to effectively regulate the elimination / excretion of bilirubin, become jaundiced.
  • Rh or blood group incompatibility jaundice: This is a type of jaundice that can be prevented if the mother is injected during the first 72 hours postpartum with Rh immune globulin. It appears when the mother produces antibodies that destroy the baby’s red blood cells, as a result of the newborn having a different blood group from its mother.

Main symptoms to watch out for

Jaundice tends to begin in the newborn’s head, from which it then progressively spreads to the rest of the body (face, chest, abdomen, and legs), always descending. It appears especially between the second to the third day of life.

As a result, the newborn’s skin turns yellow, while the sclera (the white of the eye) may turn yellow.

What to do if my baby has jaundice?

Given that today it is usual for the mother and the newborn to leave the hospital between one to two days after delivery (as long as there have been no complications), if the parents observe the appearance of a skin coloration in the slightly more yellowish baby is recommended to take them to the pediatrician. Even if in doubt, it is advisable to take them between one to three days after leaving the hospital.

Treatment of jaundice in newborns

Only when the jaundice is significant or does not subside with the passage of weeks, the pediatrician may recommend a treatment based on a special lamp – phototherapy – that helps your small body to eliminate excess bilirubin.

In most cases, when jaundice is mild or moderate, it tends to disappear within one to two weeks after birth, as the newborn begins to regulate excess bilirubin on its own.

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