People suffering from jaundice are easily recognized by characteristic symptoms: yellow discoloration of the white part of the eyes (known as sclera) and the skin. The cause of jaundice is too much bilirubin in the blood and this problem may affect both children and adults. Jaundice may affect very young children and it is often seen in newborns. Their liver is not mature enough to be able to efficiently remove bilirubin from the blood and therefore they experience yellowing of the eyes and skin.
What Can Cause Jaundice in Newborns?
One of the probable causes of yellow skin and eyes in newborns is immaturity of the liver. This condition is known as physiologic jaundice and it is not considered to be much of a problem, since it resolves after several days or weeks on its own. Bilirubin is normally formed in the blood from old red blood cells. When the liver is not functioning properly, due to immaturity of the liver and insufficient clearance, bilirubin (both unconjugated and conjugated) tends to accumulate in the blood and cause jaundice. As the liver matures and the breakdown of red blood cells slows down, yellowing disappears after several days.
However, there are some medical conditions known to provoke the same problem as well. Neonatal jaundice is commonly seen in cases of blood incompatibility between the mother and unborn child. Mom’s antibodies attack red blood cells of the fetus and destroy them, leading to accumulation of bilirubin. Mother suffering from diabetes may also be the cause of jaundice in her newborn child.
Other Conditions that Cause Jaundice
Additional explanations for yellowing of the skin and eyes of newborns could also be conditions such as: hemolysis, polycythemia, cephalohematoma (large bruise on the scalp during birth), Lucey-Driscoll or Crigler-Najjar syndromes or swallowing of blood during birth.
Carotenemia is also seen to cause discoloration of the skin in newborns. This condition may look similar, but the cause is usually too much yellow vegetables in the diet, without any elevation in blood bilirubin level. There is no yellowing of the eyes and the skin is usually more orange than yellow. Carotenemia is harmless and doesn't have to be treated in any way.
Is There a Way to Prevent Jaundice in Babies?
In most cases it is impossible to prevent this problem. Babies should be fed with sufficient amount of fluids in order to avoid yellowing of the eyes and skin and that is probably the only thing you could do. Don’t hesitate to contact your doctor or lactation consultant if you are breastfeeding your baby and have any questions about jaundice.