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Kernicterus is a preventable birth injury

On Behalf of | Apr 27, 2021 | Birth Injuries

When you attend prenatal care appointments and navigate labor, delivery and postpartum in an Illinois hospital, you can expect that your medical team will adhere to stringent protocol and act according to accepted safety standards at all times. Obstetricians, midwives, nurses, etc., are specially trained to recognize signs of distress or underlying adverse health issues in a mother or an infant.  

When your baby is first born, your medical team observes his or her condition and assigns an APGAR rating. This test is repeated approximately five minutes later. APGAR is an acronym that stands for appearance, pulse, grimace, activity and respiration. If your baby scores below seven in any category, your medical team will take appropriate action to address the issue. A birth injury may occur under substandard medical care.  

Jaundice and kernicterus can be serious problems 

As you hold and feed your newborn infant, you no doubt will gaze upon him or her, counting fingers and toes and marveling at his or her appearance. Certain issues, however, such as a yellowish tinge to the flesh, suggest that your child might need specialized care. Yellowing skin is a common symptom of jaundice 

It occurs when there is an excess of bilirubin in the bloodstream. If left untreated, jaundice can cause kernicterus, otherwise known as bilirubin encephalopathy, which is a type of brain damage that can be life-threatening. Your postpartum medical team knows what to do if your baby exhibits symptoms of jaundice in order to prevent kernicterus.  

What are the symptoms? 

If you notice symptoms in your baby that cause you concern, it’s always best to discuss them with your medical team. Likewise, if a team member observes symptoms of jaundice or kernicterus, he or she should take immediate action to provide proper care and treatment for your child.  

In addition to flesh that is tinged yellow, numerous other symptoms suggest jaundice or kernicterus, including lack of muscle tone or reflex response, inconsolable or high-pitched crying, failure to thrive during feeding (such as inability to suck) and difficulty rousing an infant from sleep. In advanced stages, kernicterus may cause seizures, hearing loss and other symptoms, as well.  

A doctor can determine the best treatment options 

Discovered in its earliest stages, jaundice is often easily treatable; in fact, sometimes it resolves itself in a matter of hours or days. It’s important to discuss your child’s condition with your medical team, however, in case additional treatment is necessary.  

Such treatment might include light therapy or plasma or blood transfusions. Whether your baby was born prematurely and how much time has passed since his or her birth may influence a doctor’s recommendation as to which type of treatment would be most helpful. Remember that kernicterus is a rare, possibly life-threatening condition that the average postpartum medical team knows how to prevent.