What is Kernicterus? Understanding Newborn Jaundice

The yellow tint of many newborns’ skin is called jaundice. When a substance called bilirubin builds up in a baby’s blood, it causes jaundice. The mother’s liver removes bilirubin for the baby throughout pregnancy, but the baby’s liver must remove it after delivery. The liver in certain neonates may not be developed enough to effectively eliminate bilirubin. When a new baby’s body has too much bilirubin, the skin and whites of his or her eyes may appear yellow. Jaundice is the term for this yellow color.

Kernicterus is a disorder that occurs when severe jaundice is left untreated for an extended period of time. Kernicterus is a type of brain injury caused by excessive bilirubin levels in a baby’s blood. It can lead to hearing loss and athetoid cerebral palsy. Kernicterus can also cause vision and dental problems, as well as intellectual disabilities. Kernicterus can be avoided if jaundice is detected and treated early.

Symptoms and Signs:

As bilirubin levels rise, jaundice usually starts on the face and then spreads to the chest, belly, arms, and legs. The whites of the eyes may appear yellow as well. Jaundice is more difficult to detect in babies with darker skin. The amount of bilirubin in the baby’s blood can be measured by the doctor or nurse.

If your baby has any of the following symptoms, see your doctor right away.

  • -Is it a bright yellow or orange color? (skin color changes start from the head and spread to the toes).
  • -Is difficult to wake up or refuses to sleep at all.
  • -Isn’t sucking from a bottle or breastfeeding well.
  • -Is a picky eater.
  • -Is running out of wet or soiled diapers (at least 4-6 thoroughly wet diapers in 24 hours and 3 to 4 stools per day by the fourth day).

If your baby is experiencing any of the following symptoms, seek immediate medical attention.

  • -Is sobbing uncontrollably or at a loud volume.
  • -It has a bow-like shape to it (the head or neck and heels are bent backward and the body forward)
  • -Has a body that is rigid, limp, or floppy.
  • -Exhibits unusual eye movements.

Diagnosis of jaundice:

In the first 48 hours of life, newborns should be tested for jaundice every 8 to 12 hours at the very least. It’s critical to get your baby checked by a nurse or doctor between the ages of 3 and 5, as this is when a baby’s bilirubin level is at its maximum. As a result, if your baby is discharged before 72 hours, he or she should be examined within two days. The exact date of this visit will depend on your baby’s age when he or she is released from the hospital, as well as other variables.

A light meter placed on the baby’s head can be used by a doctor or nurse to check the bilirubin level. A transcutaneous bilirubin (TcB) level is the result of this. If it’s too high, a blood test will almost certainly be required.

A tiny blood sample from the baby’s heel is the most accurate approach to test bilirubin. A total serum bilirubin (TSB) level is the outcome of this. Treatment is likely to follow if the level is high, based on the baby’s age in hours and other risk factors. Blood samples will most likely be taken again to check that the TSB falls when the medication is administered.


Untreated jaundice should not cause brain harm to a baby.

The baby will be stripped and placed under special lights while being treated for high bilirubin levels. The baby will not be harmed by the lights. This can be carried out at a hospital or at home. It’s possible that the baby’s milk intake will need to be raised as well. If the baby’s bilirubin levels are really high, the doctor may do a blood exchange transfusion. Before brain damage becomes a problem, jaundice is usually treated.

It is not recommended to expose the baby to sunlight as a safe technique to alleviate jaundice.

Risk Factors of jaundice:

Jaundice affects about 60% of all newborns. Some babies are more likely than others to experience severe jaundice and elevated bilirubin levels. Babies with any of the following risk factors should be closely monitored and treated for jaundice as soon as possible:

Premature Infants

Because their liver has not fully grown, babies born before 37 weeks, or 8.5 months of pregnancy, may have jaundice. The youthful liver may be unable to eliminate as much bilirubin.

Babies with a darker skin

In a baby with darker skin, jaundice may be overlooked or misdiagnosed. Jaundice can be detected by checking the gums and inner lips. A bilirubin test should be performed if there is any question.

Descent from East Asia or the Mediterranean

Jaundice is more likely in a baby born to an East Asian or Mediterranean family. In addition, certain families inherit diseases (such as G6PD deficiency), making their children more susceptible to jaundice.

Difficulties in Feeding

Jaundice is more likely in a baby who is not eating, peeing, or stooling well in the first few days of life.

Having a jaundice Sibling

A baby with a jaundiced sister or sibling is more likely to develop jaundice.


Jaundice is more probable in a baby who has bruises at delivery. When blood leaks from a blood vessel, it causes the skin to bleed and turn black and blue. Large bruising might result in high amounts of bilirubin, which can cause jaundice in your baby.

Type of Blood

Babies born to women with the O blood type or the Rh-negative blood factor may have greater bilirubin levels. Rhogam should be given to a mother who is Rh incompatible.

If You’re Worried:

If you suspect your baby has jaundice, call and make an appointment with your baby’s doctor very quickly. Inquire about a jaundice bilirubin test with your baby’s doctor or nurse.

If your baby has jaundice, it’s critical to take it seriously and stick to the appointment schedule and recommended jaundice.

Check to see if your baby is receiving enough to eat. The waste removal mechanism also removes bilirubin from your baby’s blood. For the first few days, if you’re breastfeeding, you should feed the baby at least 8 to 12 times a day. This will assist you in producing adequate milk for the baby while also lowering the baby’s bilirubin level. Breastfeeding women may benefit from support and assistance in order to boost their chances of success. If you’re experiencing problems nursing, seek assistance from your doctor, nurse, or lactation coach.

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