How to Tell the Difference Between Simply Jaundice and Dangerous Kernicterus?

It is Important to be Able to Tell the Difference Between Jaundice and Kernicterus to Protect Your Baby’s Life


New parents have many worries and concerns for their baby.  This is perfectly understandable because new parents are the frontline defender of their child’s health and safety.  They are the advocate for their child, as their newborn cannot directly express what he or she is feeling, trying to say, or experiencing.  They are also the ones to help the child, who is completely dependent on them, get the medical care and treatment that they need for potentially dangerous health conditions.  One important health condition that parents need to be particularly careful in evaluating is jaundice and kernicterus because both could result in a serious birth injury.


Jaundice in Newborns is Generally Normal


Most of us have heard of jaundice before.  That is the yellow tint on a person’s skin and the white’s of their eyes.  It is caused by a build up of bilirubin in the blood.  In newborns, this usually appears in the first week after birth.  It is actually normal for most babies to have some form of mild jaundice during this time.  This is because a baby’s liver and kidneys are just starting to function completely independently and have been under significant stress from the birthing process.  This means they may not function perfectly right away which is why the bilirubin builds up excessively.


Long Bouts of Jaundice Can be Kernicterus, Which is Very Dangerous


However, when that bilirubin builds up too high and does not adjust itself after a week or two after birth, it can become a medical emergency.  This is called kernicterus and it can cause a whole host of permanent and debilitating health problems because it can cause serious and significant damage to the developing brain.  This can even develop into cerebral palsy which result in serious and long-lasting medical care and treatment for your newborn.


While the symptoms of regular jaundice and kernicterus can be the same, namely the yellow tint of color, there are symptoms that you need to be aware of to protect your baby because they are more than simply jaundice and may be kernicterus.  Some of these symptoms include the following:


  • Darker yellow to almost orange coloring, particularly starting at the top of the head;
  • Difficultly feeding your baby;
  • Extremely fussy, cranky, or uncooperative newborn;
  • Difficulty waking up the baby after a nap;
  • Difficulty getting the baby to sleep;
  • Less bowl movements;
  • Fever;
  • Noticeable drowsiness or a lack of energy;
  • Shrill crying and excessive crying;
  • Limpness in the baby’s body;
  • Stiffness in the baby’s body;
  • Unusual eye movements;
  • Muscle spasms;
  • Reduced muscle tone; and
  • Any other other odd behavior.


Babies With the Signs of Kernicterus Need Emergency Medical Treatment


If your baby has jaundice and some of the symptoms noted above, a licensed physician should review your baby’s symptoms to assess whether the rare and dangerous kernicterus brain damage could occur.  Primary care physicians and other medical providers should already be monitoring for this, but if they do not, it is your job as a parent to do so.


When healthcare providers fail to do so anywhere in Minnesota, including in Minneapolis, St. Paul, Rochester, Duluth, or any other city, please call Kuhlman Law, LLC by dialing (612) 444-3374 to learn what your rights to compensation you may have.  You may also contact us using our easy and convenient “contact us” box at the bottom of our website. Initial consultations and appointments are free.  If we accept your case, we will conduct a thorough review of your case and advise you whether there may have been a serious medical mistake causing your injury.  There is no risk, and you do not owe us money unless we win your case.


We also handle cases throughout the state including Bend and Portland Oregon, Redmond, Central Oregon, Multnomah County, Deschutes County, Salem, Eugene, Corvallis, Lane County, Medford, Gresham, Albany, Medford, Beaverton, Umatilla, Pendleton, and Hillsboro.  Our Oregon office number is (541) 385-1999.  

    For a free case evaluation, fill out the form below

    The use of the internet or this form for communication with the firm or any individual member of the firm does not establish an attorney-client relationship. Confidential or time-sensitive information should not be sent through this form.

    OR Call
    Bend, Oregon: (541) 385-1999
    Portland: (503) 479-3646
    Minnesota: (612) 444-3374

    Our Office

    Kuhlman Law, LLC
    160 NW Irving Ave, Suite 203
    Bend, OR 97703