Sixty percent of babies are born with jaundice. An excess of the chemical bilirubin in the liver causes jaundice and can take less than a week for a baby to excrete it. This condition is recognizable by the yellowing of the baby’s skin, gums and whites of the eyes.
An infant treated for jaundice can go on to live a healthy life with early detection. However, significant problems can develop with a missed diagnosis or left untreated.
Among the biggest dangers of leaving jaundice unchecked is the development of kernicterus. This is a condition that causes brain damage from overexposure to elevated levels of bilirubin in the blood. Moreover, kernicterus can lead to vision and hearing problems as well as cerebral palsy.
Early detection is key yet there are factors that leave certain demographics more prone to jaundice and to a missed diagnosis:
- Skin tone: The sad reality is that babies with darker skin tones are more likely to have a missed jaundice diagnosis. The CDC recommends checking gums, inner lips, and the whites of the eyes for yellowing instead of just the skin.
- Genetics: East Asian and Mediterranean children are more at-risk due to inherited blood deficiencies.
- Premature babies: An infant born before eight and a half weeks is at greater risk for jaundice doesn’t have a liver developed enough to expel the extra bilirubin.
Jaundice is treatable and kernicterus is preventable
Talking to your obstetrician about the signs of jaundice can help you recognize the signs after your baby is born. If you’re concerned or want to rule it out, you can ask your doctor for a test before leaving the hospital. The birth of your baby should be a moment of joy for your family. Conditions like jaundice are more common than you think but are often treatable with early detection.