Complications of Neonatal Jaundice and Failure to Treat June 20, 2024.

Complications of Neonatal Jaundice and Failure to Treat

Neonatal jaundice is a common condition that occurs when a baby’s blood contains too much bilirubin. A baby with jaundice temporarily has yellow skin and eyes but typically isn’t uncomfortable or in pain during this time. However, complications are possible and babies should be monitored closely for them after delivery. Discover these below and where to get help if your baby was injured at birth.

Causes of Neonatal Jaundice

According to the Liver Foundation, as many as 60% of babies in the United States are born with jaundice or are affected by the condition during their first week. The most common causes of jaundice in newborns include:

  1. The baby's liver needs more time to mature before it can properly remove bilirubin
  2. Breast milk is blocking a baby's liver from breaking down bilirubin

Non-medical risk factors for jaundice include being born premature, having a sibling who was jaundiced, and being of Middle Eastern or East Asian descent. However, more serious issues can also be the cause:

  1. The mother’s blood type does not match the baby’s blood type
  2. A baby is born with an excess of red blood cells
  3. The baby was bruised or swallowed blood during birth
  4. The mother had gestational diabetes while pregnant
  5. The baby has an infection in their blood

Treatment Options

In the vast majority of cases, jaundice is treatable and resolves within a few days to a week after birth. Babies are generally prescribed phototherapy and given special lights that help break down the bilirubin until the baby’s liver can do the job on its own. The baby may need to be in the hospital for the therapy or a light may be given to the mother with instructions on how to use it at home.

During treatment, a baby will wear only a blindfold and their diaper so they can get maximum exposure to the light. It usually only takes a few days for the condition to resolve, but in rare cases, a blood transfusion may be necessary. Potential side effects of bilirubin lights include dehydration, a mild skin rash, and diarrhea.

Mild jaundice may clear up on its own without any intervention, while severe jaundice may require hospitalization to monitor. Medications are rarely effective, even for adults. You should never place a baby in direct sunlight to treat jaundice since this is at best ineffective and can quickly result in a sunburn to a newborn’s delicate skin.

Consequences of Failure to Treat

Very high levels of bilirubin in a newborn's bloodstream can result in a condition called kernicterus. While rare, the condition is very serious and occurs when the bilirubin builds up to such extreme levels that it begins to cross the blood-brain barrier. At that point, it begins to cause spinal cord and brain damage, which can ultimately result in encephalopathy or swelling of the brain.

Symptoms of kernicterus in newborns generally include:

  1. Irritability
  2. Inability to feed
  3. Lack of startle reflex
  4. Excessive sleepiness
  5. Irregular breathing
  6. Floppy muscles
  7. Muscle spasms

If not treated quickly, kernicterus can result in permanent brain damage and cause conditions like cerebral palsy, learning disabilities, and hearing loss. These children also tend to suffer from involuntary muscle twitching, difficulty moving their eyes normally, and inadequate tooth development.

Next Steps

Unfortunately, many medical providers don’t take jaundice seriously and provide babies with the treatment they need to prevent complications like kernicterus. If this happens to your family, your next steps determine if and how negligent doctors will be held responsible for failure to treat.

Start by obtaining copies of your child’s medical records from wherever they were seen by a medical professional. This includes their birth records from the hospital, records from pediatricians for follow-up appointments and routine wellness visits, and any other paperwork you can get. You should also get copies of related bills and invoices to calculate the cost of your child’s care.

Then, this information can be given to an experienced birth injury lawyer who will file a claim for financial restitution on your behalf. This will include all past and future expenses your family incurs as a result of your child’s medical condition and the negligence that caused it.

Call The Mellino Law Firm Today 

If your family was impacted by a birth injury, you deserve qualified legal support. We can help you pursue the compensation you need to cover potentially lifelong medical expenses for your child and the suffering you’ve endured. Contact us today to learn more about birth injuries or to schedule your free initial consultation by calling (440) 333-3800.