Kernicterus and Your Baby

Learn more about bilirubin encephalopathy

Jaundice is a common occurrence in newborns, which shows up as a yellowish tint to the baby’s skin and the whites of their eyes. While seeing your baby’s eyes turn yellow might be scary, it is a condition that routinely resolves itself. Jaundice is a result of a buildup of bilirubin in the baby’s blood. Bilirubin is a by-product of the breakdown of old blood cells in the liver. When the baby is inside of the mother’s body, her liver does the work of breaking down the old blood cells. Jaundice typically appears in the first few days of a baby’s life when their liver may be a bit slow in doing its work.

Kernicterus, or bilirubin encephalopathy, is a rare neurological condition that occurs in some newborns with untreated jaundice. It is a rare neurological disorder that is a result of an accumulation of bilirubin in the brain and can cause life-threatening complications.

What are symptoms of kernicterus?

The signs of jaundice begin to appear on the baby’s face and then move down the chest to the belly, arms and legs as bilirubin levels rise. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that mothers should have their baby seen by a doctor the same day if the following occurs:

  • Yellow or orange skin
  • Difficult to wake the baby, or baby is not sleeping at all
  • Baby is not breastfeeding or sucking well from the bottle
  • The baby is fussy
  • The baby is not making enough wet or dirty diapers

While newborn jaundice is commonplace, kernicterus is not. It can be diagnosed with a simple blood test, and medical professionals can observe the symptoms. Parents should seek emergency medical attention if the baby:

  • Is crying inconsolably at a high pitch
  • Is arched like a bow
  • Has a stiff, limp or floppy body
  • Has strange eye movements
  • Has seizures
  • Is eating less often
  • Does not exhibit reflexes

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that infants should be examined by a health professional within a few days of discharge, and those who are discharged within 24-hours should be reviewed within 72 hours.

Potential risk factors for kernicterus

There are three common factors that put your baby at risk of kernicterus, per Healthline:

  • Incompatible blood (either ABO, or an Rh incompatibility) between the mother and the baby
  • Inheritance of Crigler-Najjar syndrome
  • Certain types of medications – specifically, those with sulfonamides

Treatment for kernicterus

Most babies will be treated with phototherapy, and some may require blood transfusions – but once the child develops kernicterus, the damage is done. There is no way to reverse the effects of the birth injury; treatments can only arrest those effects so they do not get worse.

Liability for babies with kernicterus

If a physician does not catch the early signs and symptoms or does not act quickly when the signs of hyperbilirubinemia appear, this can cause serious injury to the child including hearing loss, seizures and developmental problems. If a newborn’s doctor fails to treat jaundice before it escalates to kernicterus, it could be considered a birth injury because of medical negligence.

These are many of the injuries our clients’ children have sustained

Cognitive, Developmental and Intellectual DisabilitiesInfant Spina Bifida
Brachial Plexus Injuries, Klumpke’s Palsy and Erb’s PalsyInfant Spinal Cord Damage
Cerebral PalsyInfant Subconjunctival Hemorrhage
Hypoxic Ischemic EncephalopathyNeonatal Hyperbilirubinemia
Intracranial HemorrhageKernicterus
Shoulder DystociaNeonatal Stroke and Infant Brain Ischemia
Epidural Birth InjuriesPersistent Pulmonary Hypertension of the Newborn (PPHN)
Horner’s SyndromeVacuum Extraction Injury
HydrocephalusWrongful Birth
Infant Bell’s PalsyUmbilical Cord Prolapse
Infant Broken Bones and Skull FracturesVacuum Extraction and Forceps Injuries
Infant Cervical Dystonia / Infant Torticollis / Infant Dystonia DisorderMeconium Stained Amniotic Fluid
Infant Meningitis

Consult with a skilled birth injury lawyer today

Crandall & Pera Law takes a special interest in birth injury cases. We take pride in helping families and we strive to provide comprehensive legal services for families dealing with birth injuries throughout Ohio and Kentucky. To schedule a no-obligation consultation with a birth injury attorney, please call 877-686-8879 or fill out our contact form.