Infant Jaundice: More Harmful Than You May Think

May 23, 2014

There is a common misconception among many that newborn jaundice is a relatively minor condition that will clear up on it’s own. Although that may be true in some cases, it’s always important to ensure your baby is receiving medical care. Without the proper treatment and care, infant jaundice can cause a host of serious medical issues.

In November of 2013, the parents of  a 6-year-old Jaelin Sence from Brooklyn, New York boy filed a lawsuit after learning the devastating news that that their son would never live a normal life. He requires assistance in his everyday activities and is unable to walk or talk. His disabilities are a result of failure of the New York Methodist Hospital to diagnose and treat his jaundice shortly after he was born. Although the family won $25 million after filing a birth injury lawsuit against the hospital, the child still lives with his disabilities.

In a similar instance in March of 2009, the parents of premature infant girl won their lawsuit against Dr. Arvind Shukla, the University of Chicago Medical Center, and Midwest Neoped Associates Inc. after Dr. Shukla failed to diagnose and treat the baby’s infant jaundice. Although initial attempts were made to bring the baby’s bilirubin levels down, the doctor failed to monitor and follow-up. Consquently, the baby’s bilirubin levels spiked three times higher than the average level. The now 5-year-old lives with hearing loss in one ear, speech problems, and permanent auditory neuropathy. The family was awarded $1.5 million after the defendants agreed to settle the case.

Unfortunately, the aforementioned cases are only a few among the thousands of infants each year who develop jaundice that’s left untreated. As a parent, you hope that you’re in good medical hands as your baby is welcomed into the world, but sadly that’s not always the case. If you suspect your infant may have jaundice, don’t hesitate to inform your healthcare provider immediately and if needed, keep pressing them to monitor your baby.

Infant Jaundice Signs and Symptoms

If an infant has jaundice, there are usually signs and symptoms that are detectable in most instances. One of the most common and prominent signs is the skin and eyes. When babies have jaundice, their skin may take on a yellow-tinted appearance and the whites in their eyes may become yellow as well. According to the Mayo Clinic, this can happen anywhere between the 2nd, 3rd, or 4th day after birth. Other signs and symptoms include:

  • Inexplicable crying and fussiness
  • Difficulties in falling and staying asleep or when asleep, difficulties in waking up
  • Not enough soiled diapers when compared with the average newborn

Complications of Infant Jaundice if Not Treated

Bilirubin, a pigment found in bile, is extremely dangerous if it affects the cells in the brain. When jaundice becomes severe, the infant may develop kernicterus, a form of brain damage marked by hearing loss, mobility issues, cerebral palsy, communication problems, an unfocused gaze, and teeth problems.

If treated immediately, most infants can surpass the aforementioned health issues. Treatment most often consists of phototherapy to bring bilirubin levels down. In severe cases, surgery and/or a blood transfusion may be necessary.