Friday, April 8, 2011

Fun Fact Friday - Bilirubin the Kid

As I may have mentioned, I recently became both a grampa and an uncle.  This leads to all sorts of additions to my vocabulary, including terms that should never be used in polite company (i.e. mucus plug).

Grace, my niece, spent an extra day in the hospital when they couldn't find a bilirubin blanket.  Apparently, those things are a hot commodity.  Jordan's bilirubin levels climbed once he was home, but both wee little childrens are healthy now.

Jaundice is caused by a processing inbalance.  Bilirubin (the artist formerly known as hematoidin) is a naturally occuring product of the body, created when red blood cells break down.  Because babies produce red blood cells at a quicker rate than adults, they produce a higher bilirubin-to-weight ratio than adults.  Bilirubin is processed through the liver, and eventually gets pooped out.  (Not tired, but excreted.  Don't you love the ambiguity of the English language?)

Babies can't always process bilirubin efficiently, because their livers haven't developed completely (in the case of premature birth), or because they don't manage to poop efficiently. 

In more serious cases, jaundice can be caused by an infection, or by other disorders of the thyroid.  It's also possible when a newborn doesn't get enough breast milk, or, in the case of an Rh-factor mismatch, when a mother's milk actually creates antibodies that damage the child's red blood cells.

So maybe this isn't a 'fun' fact, but it is a common occurence, and when treated properly, children can come through it without any permanent damage.

As for permanent damage, however, I'm not sure which is worse: me EVER hearing the words 'mucus plug' (DON'T Google it.  No good can come of that) or my brother-in-law inadvertently seeing the placenta drop.

Update - As Frank was so kind to point out, I never talked about how the Biliblanket works. Imagine TRON. UV light can be used to convert the subcutaneous bilirubin to other byproducts that break down and metabolize without the help of the liver. While looking like Flynn or Yori.

I always wanted one of those light cycles.


Bev said...

I wish I hadn't been munching on a piece of pizza as I settled in to read this! *blerg*

Funny thing, you mentioning jaundice today. My friend Sarah's newborn son is under the sun lamps as we speak. Both my boys had it after they were born, but it was mild and required no treatment, thank goodness.

Glad your babies are doing well now! Happy weekend!

Frank Irwin said...

Thanks! I've learned something for today, so now I can go back to bed.

How does the Bilirubin blanket work?

Elliott said...

Thanks, Frank. I somehow forgot about that, despite it being interesting to me. I updated the article. When you wake up Saturday, you can thank me.

Bev, sorry about that. I never want to be the one to ruin pizza.

Frank Irwin said...

Thanks, Elliot!

I have heard of those lights, just didn't know what they were called.

Be nice and share!

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