Doctors said mothers of newborn babies should take care when they begin breast-feeding, pointing to a near-fatal case last year when a baby in Taichung suffered hearing damage after being diagnosed with acute bilirubin encephalopathy.
China Medical University Hospital physician Lin Hung-chih (林鴻志) said a 20-year-old woman first noticed that her son’s skin had turned yellowish two days after she started breast-feeding, but she blamed her home’s lighting for the change.
Five days after her baby began incessant crying, she took him to the hospital for a check-up. Doctors found the child’s skin color was almost pumpkin-like because he had double the standard amount of bilirubin, Lin said.
The hyperbilirubinemia had caused bilirubin encephalopathy, but the hospital managed to bring infant’s bilirubin down to normal levels through a blood transfusion and light therapy, Lin said.
However, the baby suffered lasting damage to his hearing.
If the infant’s condition had become more severe, could have damaged his brain cells, caused abnormal muscle contractions or led to sepsis, Lin said.
Ninety percent of newborn babies in Taiwan exhibit some jaundice, which is usually benign and disappears after two weeks, Lin said. The condition is usually caused by a newborn’s high red blood cell count and the inability of their livers to process bilirubin, the doctor said.
Ten percent of the cases are due either to unfamiliarity with breast-feeding or the mother producing insufficient milk, which can cause the baby to develop jaundice due to dehydration or lack of calories, while about 0.5 percent of cases are due to amino acid content or hormones, Lin said.
If parents notice that their child is still jaundiced after two weeks, they should immediately seek medical attention, Lin said, adding that the cause is most likely to be the mother’s milk, narrow liver channels or a urinary tract infection.
Jaundice in the head or neck area typically indicates relatively low bilirubin levels, while jaundice in the chest area, the abdomen and on the arms and knees could be caused by more serious problems, Lin said.
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