Does My Baby Have Kernicterus?

What is Kernicterus?
Kernicterus is a very rare type of brain damage. It happens to a newborn baby who has severe jaundice.

What Is Jaundice?
Jaundice is yellowish discoloration of the skin, whites of the eyes and mucous membranes caused by increased levels of bilirubin. Jaundice comes from the French word jaune, meaning yellow. Jaundice typically appears in a 'top to bottom' progression, starting with the face and progressing downwards to the feet, and clears in a 'bottom to top' manner.

What Are Bilirubin Levels?
The substance which causes jaundice is bilirubin, a normal component of blood. When the bilirubin level gets so high that it overflows from the blood, it can seep into the brain tissue.

Bilirubin is a yellow breakdown product of normal heme catabolism. In certain diseases its levels are elevated and it is responsible for the yellow color of bruises and the brown color of feces.

Who Is At Risk?
Newborn babies are at risk. Jaundice in babies occurs in about 60% of newborn infants in the United States.

What Is The Risk?
When signs of acute Kernicterus occur in a jaundiced baby, permanent brain damage occurs. Immediate treatment is necessary to prevent further damage, and because some of the damage may be reversible.

What Are The Symptoms?
The signs of acute bilirubin toxicity in a new-born baby are:

  • Abnormalities of muscle tone, including increased muscle tone, decreased muscle tone, or variations in muscle tone. The baby’s head flops.
  • Lethargy, leading to difficulty in arousing the baby,
  • A high-pitched cry,
  • Arching the back and spine
  • Fever

    Should I Breastfeed?
    Yes! Bilirubin is eliminated from the body during excretion so try to breastfeed your baby regularly. When you feed your baby less, your baby has less stools and, as a result, less bilirubin leaves her body. One of the most common causes of a newborn baby having to be readmitted to the hospital after it has been discharged is highly increased bilirubin levels caused by inadequate feeding. Despite the appearance of jaundice in the baby’s color, regular feeding should continue.

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