A baby with
Jaundice is a condition that gives the eyes and skins a yellow colour and when it affects children below one month old, it is known as neonatal jaundice.
Neonatal jaundice has been described as the most significant and preventable cause of cerebral palsy among Ghanaian children.
Evidence from the Ghana Health Service (GHS) shows that the incidence of neonatal jaundice among newborns has been on the rise in recent years.
For instance, from 2015 to 2019, Ghana recorded 3,031, 4,251, 5,338, 7,175 and 9,273 cases of neonatal jaundice respectively.
Health experts say that although a few cases of jaundice in newborns are normal, it only takes medical assessment to determine if a baby is okay or otherwise.
Newborn jaundice is very common and can occur when babies have a high level of bilirubin, a yellow pigment produced during normal breakdown of red blood cells.
Bilirubin is a yellowish substance in a person’s blood and forms after red blood cells break down and it travels through one’s liver, gallbladder and digestive tract before being excreted.
Sometimes the level of bilirubin can become very high and this becomes dangerous to the baby.
The good news is that in most cases, newborn jaundice goes away on its own within two to three weeks as a baby’s liver develops and as the baby begins to breastfeed frequently, which helps bilirubin pass through the body.
However, high levels of bilirubin can put a baby at risk for deafness, cerebral palsy, or other forms of brain damage.
The Director of the Family Health Division of the Ghana Health Service, Dr Isabella Sagoe-Moses, advocates that although prevention was not always possible, early detection and treatment of jaundice in babies were critical to saving newborn babies from death and the dire permanent consequences of jaundice such as cerebral palsy and other disabilities.
“If the treatment of jaundice is delayed, even for a few hours, the condition can spread and this can make the baby develop brain damage, which is irreversible,” she said.
She attributed the high neonatal jaundice cases and complications to the negative socio-cultural practices that prevented mothers from seeking medical intervention or doing so on time.
Dr Sagoe-Moses mentioned the cultural practices to include exposing the babies to the early morning sun and spilling breast milk on the eye when symptoms begin to show rather than seeking immediate health care in an approved facility.
She said none of the cultural interventions was helpful and asked mothers and care givers to seek immediate medical intervention to save affected babies from the dire consequences of jaundice in babies.
“Jaundice in babies is a medical condition. Do not waste time and do not expose your baby to sunlight. Do not give your baby glucose water or treat your baby with other home remedies. Every minute counts. Seek medical advice immediately.
“Jaundice usually appears on the third or fourth day of life but disappears after the first week, especially because newborn babies have a large number of red blood cells, which are quickly broken down.
“This leads to the release of Bilirubin into the blood and that is then cleared away by the liver. In newborn babies, the liver is still immature and is not able to handle the large amounts of bilirubin very well.
Babies are also more likely to develop jaundice if they are not breastfeeding well and so it is important that mothers are encouraged to breastfeed their new babies as much as they are able to take,” she advised.
She mentioned blood group incompatibility (Rhesus or ABO) as another risk factor.
“This means that there is a difference between the blood group of mother and baby, which can sometimes lead to jaundice in the baby.