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Is my baby in danger if the doctor misses her jaundice?

Jaundice is a common condition among newborns, and is usually harmless, especially with treatment. However, it has been known to cause brain damage if left untreated, so a responsible doctor will take signs of jaundice seriously.

The most obvious symptom of jaundice is yellow skin or whites of the eyes. Uncertain parents can test by pressing gently on the baby’s forehead or nose. If the skin is yellow where you pressed, it is likely your baby has jaundice.

Jaundice is the result of an excess of bilirubin, a yellow-colored pigment of red blood cells. Most cases are caused by an immature liver, often due to the infant being born before 38 weeks. If serious enough, a condition called acute bilirubin encephalopathy can develop. That in turn can lead to kernicterus, a syndrome that can cause brain damage. Symptoms of kernicterus include

  • Involuntary and uncontrolled movements
  • Permanent upward gaze
  • Hearing loss
  • Improper development of tooth enamel

Doctors are usually supposed to check newborns for jaundice regularly, at least every eight to 12 hours before discharging them from the hospital. Failure to keep a close eye out for jaundice, or to instruct the parents to bring the baby back if jaundice symptoms appear, could unnecessarily put the baby at risk of permanent harm.

Every parent hopes their new baby will be healthy. Some children are born with a disability, because of genetics, a difficult labor or some other unavoidable reason. But a doctor who negligently allows a baby to get sick or hurt should have to pay for the newborn’s damages.

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