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Prevent Brain Damage in Newborns with Jaundice with Three Changes


For a condition that is so easily treatable, the fact that neonatal jaundice continues to cause brain damage in newborn infants is quite abominable – and we are not talking about some third world country with limited healthcare infrastructure. Babies in North America and the United Kingdom continue to suffer catastrophic consequences because doctors failed to perform a simple blood test.

Neonatal jaundice is a common condition, affecting up to 60 percent of all babies. However, in 1 to 2 percent of babies, it is severe enough to cause brain damage if it remains undiagnosed or untreated. Despite the availability of a relatively simple treatment called phototherapy, many parents are still forced to seek the help of a birth injury lawyer because jaundice was not recognized and their child was left with permanent physical and intellectual disabilities. Here are three changes that could prevent brain damage in babies with jaundice.

1. New technologies to treat jaundice

Traditionally, doctors or nurses must draw a blood sample from the baby’s heel to test the bilirubin level, which indicates the severity of jaundice. Now, a Canadian organization called the Saskatoon Health Region has developed a machine that analyzes light reflected from the baby’s skin to measure jaundice. This test is non-invasive and painless, and best of all, it provides an instant result. Another company, ChroMedX, a developer of innovative point-of-care testing technologies, has received a U.S. patent for the HemoPalm system, a hand-held analyzer that will use capillary blood from babies to detect neonatal jaundice.

2. New ideologies around jaundice

For many decades now, the “breast is best” ideology has ruled the roost. New mothers who cannot breastfeed their infants or choose not to do so end up feeling guilty and anxious. Lactation consultants repeatedly stress the importance of breastfeeding. Yet, in infants who are exclusively breastfed, if the intake of milk is not sufficient, jaundice can develop. If this jaundice is not treated, the high levels of bilirubin in the baby’s blood can result in kernicterus and brain damage. Now, some doctors are promoting a “fed is best” ideology to educate mothers on the risks of starvation in newborn babies. In addition to jaundice, babies who do not receive adequate nutrition are at risk of dehydration and hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), which also puts them at risk for brain damage.

3. New policies about jaundice

Although jaundice is common in newborn babies, severe jaundice is relatively rare. This is perhaps why doctors often neglect to perform the simple and inexpensive test to check the baby’s bilirubin level. Healthcare personnel are sometimes negligent in looking for signs and symptoms of the condition. New mothers are often reassured that their baby’s yellow skin is “normal.” As a result, some babies with dangerously high levels of bilirubin fail to receive timely treatment. Now, healthcare organizations are enforcing new policies that require physicians to monitor bilirubin levels at the first sign of jaundice. These changing protocols will ensure that no infant suffers the disastrous, yet easily preventable, consequences of brain damage due to newborn jaundice.

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