Jaundice occurs when the chemical bilirubin builds up in a baby’s blood. Bilirubin is a yellow substance produced when red blood cells break down. During pregnancy, the mother’s liver removes bilirubin for the baby. After birth, the baby’s liver must remove the bilirubin.
In some babies, the liver is not sufficiently developed to get rid of bilirubin efficiently. When too much bilirubin builds up in a newborn's body, the skin and whites of the eyes might look yellow.
As new babies have a high red blood cell count which is broken down and replaced, neonatal jaundice is very common. In most cases, this is diagnosed quickly either at hospital before discharge or in the community by the midwives or health visitors. It will either resolve itself or can be easily treated with phototherapy. With quick treatment, jaundice is reversible and causes no harm.
If jaundice is severe and not diagnosed or treated properly, babies are in danger of developing kernicterus. The bilirubin levels build up to very high levels – a condition known as hyperbilirubinaemia. The bilirubin can then cross the blood-brain barrier causing damage.
Kernicterus is a rare form of brain damage that occurs when bilirubin builds up to extremely high levels and enters the brain. It is considered a preventable condition. Babies born prematurely have the highest rates of developing jaundice and Kernicterus. According to www.nhs.uk, it is estimated that 6 out of 10 babies develop jaundice, including 8 out of 10 babies born prematurely before 37 weeks. Other risk factors include blood incompatibilities, maternal infections, and macrosomia. Only around one in 20 babies has a blood bilirubin level high enough to need treatment.
If your child has developed brain damage and hearing loss as a result of Kernicterus, you may be able to make a claim.
Browse our recent Kernicterus cases.
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