During the nine months in which a baby develops in its mother’s womb, the different organs go through maturation processes that usually have different rhythms. While some organs may be well-formed after several months, others may be just beginning to develop, while others finish setting after birth. This has the consequence that the body of a tiny baby does not perform the functions in the same way as a child of a couple of years, a teenager, or an adult. As a part of this gradual development of the organs, babies can present specific characteristics related to a particular biological process, such as the increase in bilirubin in newborns. In this FastlyHealarticle, we will talk about why bilirubin rises in newborns, a condition that, although considered normal, may concern some parents.
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What is bilirubin
Red blood cells, within their composition, have a protein called hemoglobin, which is responsible for absorbing the oxygen that enters the lungs and taking it to the tissues to nourish them. Like any other component of our cells, hemoglobin constantly changes to maintain the body’s ability to function correctly.
When hemoglobin is metabolized, this protein turns into a pigment called bilirubin, yellowish. Generally, it accumulates in the liver’s gallbladder as bile, from where it is excreted into the intestine to contribute to the digestion of fats.
Why does bilirubin rise in newborns?
As part of a set of changes they undergo in their body, newborns have a much higher percentage of red blood cells in their blood to adequately deliver oxygen to the entire developing body.
During the time within the mother, the placenta is responsible for eliminating the bilirubin that is formed from the metabolism of hemoglobin. However, once the baby is born, this function passes to the liver, an organ that is still finishing its development. Sometimes you cannot remove this yellowish pigment at an adequate speed. Therefore, when this happens, bilirubin accumulates in the body as part of the normal maturation processes of a newborn for a time, usually not more than a week.
Although this is the most frequent explanation for the increase in bilirubin levels in a newborn, other processes can produce this, and it is necessary to take into account:
- Premature Babies – Babies born early have even less developed organs than a full-term baby. In this case, jaundice lasts for a longer time, and it is necessary to monitor possible alterations or symptoms.
- Reaction to breast milk can be caused by an increase in bilirubin in response to certain substances in breast milk that hinder pigment excretion. It can last for up to twelve weeks.
- Rh incompatibility is the name given to a condition in which the mother’s immune system, whose red blood cells lack the Rh factor (Rh negative), reacts against the baby’s Rh-positive red blood cells if they inherited from the father. This causes the red blood cells to be destroyed, releasing hemoglobin, which is metabolized to form bilirubin.
What are the symptoms of high bilirubin in newborns?
The classic sign of increased bilirubin, both in adults and newborns, is the discoloration of the skin and the whites of the eyes to a yellowish tone due to the color of the bilirubin. This is known as jaundice, and it is a condition that does not produce symptoms in itself.
In addition to this symptom, increased bilirubin has little consequence on the baby, usually limited to increased sleep, which can increase bilirubin levels, as this causes the child not to eat as much as it should, something essential to eliminate pigments through feces.
How is high bilirubin treated in newborns?
Because it is considered a normal process during the first days of the baby’s life, as it is not a condition that produces particularly significant symptoms, treatment to lower bilirubin levels in newborns is rarely indicated. It is usually a condition that resolves after a few days when the baby’s liver begins to perform correctly.
It is recommended to feed the baby frequently, as this stimulates the elimination of bilirubin through the stool. In other cases, when bilirubin levels are incredibly high, phototherapy may be recommended, which involves placing the baby in a chamber with a special light that stimulates the removal of bilirubin.
To prevent Rh incompatibility conditions, it is necessary to do a previous follow-up during pregnancy, too; in this way, determine the problem before its consequences begin to appear. For this, it is necessary to administer special immunoglobulins for these cases called RhoGAM, which eliminates the sensitivity of the red blood cells. When jaundice is severe, a blood transfusion may be recommended to renew red blood cells.
This article is merely informative, at FastlyHeal .com we do not have the power to prescribe medical treatments or make any type of diagnosis. We invite you to see a doctor in the case of presenting any type of condition or discomfort.
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I am a Surgeon with a diploma in comprehensive ultrasound and surgical care residency, an area I am specializing in. During the exercise of my profession, I have realized the need for patients to know the diseases they suffer, and I can tell you that a large part of their complications is due to a lack of information. Being a health web writer allows me to transmit my experience, without borders, to all those readers eager for knowledge, educate them in the prevention of diseases and promote a healthy lifestyle.