Symptoms of hyperbilirubinemia, which occurs in babies with a buildup of bilirubin in their blood, include jaundice, which is yellowed skin and eyes, poor feeding and lethargy, explains University of Rochester Medical Center. Symptoms may be present at birth, or they may show up at a later time. Approximately 80 percent of premature infants and about 60 percent of full-term babies exhibit some form of jaundice, and newborns of mothers with diabetes or Rh disease are especially susceptible.
Hyperbilirubinemia can occur for several reasons, notes University of Rochester Medical Center. One form is called physiologic jaundice and is a normal result of a baby's lower ability to eliminate bilirubin for the first few days post-birth. Newborns can exhibit yellowing of the skin and eyes due to the breakdown of their red blood cells resulting from hemolytic disease. Occasionally, breastfed babies experience hyperbilirubinemia between the ages of 2 and 12 weeks. In the case of breast milk-related jaundice, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that the mother continue to breastfeed if possible.
The goal of hyperbilirubinemia treatment is to prevent the buildup of bilirubin from reaching dangerous levels, according to University of Rochester Medical Center. Options include phototherapy, fiberoptic blankets, exchange blood transfusion, hydration and treatment of any infections contributing to the condition. Bilirubin level tests, red blood cell counts and testing for Rh incompatibility are three ways doctors can determine the severity and cause of hyperbilirubinemia.