Babies Born With Jaundice May Be More Likely to Develop Autism

A recent study reported that babies born with jaundice are 67 percent more likely to develop autism. So we wondered, should moms of jaundiced babies be extra worried about autism? We asked two experts to weigh in.

Jaundice is a very common liver problem at birth -- more than half of babies are born with it -- and it makes their eyes and skin turn yellow. In other words, if your baby didn’t have it, you probably know someone whose child did. Five percent of infants have severe cases, where they need heat lamp treatment and can’t go home for a few days.

Factors that could contribute to jaundice include being a firstborn child or a summer baby or being born at less than 40 weeks of gestation. But even though the condition is common, “it’s important for parents not to come to the conclusion that jaundice causes autism based on this study,” says Michael Dudas, M.D., chief of pediatrics at Virginia Mason Medical Center in Seattle.

Bryan King, M.D., professor and vice chair of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the University of Washington, agrees that jaundice doesn't lead to autism. Instead, he suggests that some yet-unknown underlying factor is what causes both jaundice and autism in certain babies.“It is important to underscore that if jaundice increases the probability of a child developing autism, it has to be through interacting with other factors -- perhaps by other genetic or environmental factors that set the stage for autism to develop.”

For years, many parents of kids with autism have thought that these environmental factors occurred during toddlerhood -- not right at birth. This, says Dr. King, makes the study significant. “[The study's] findings may move the search for potential environmental factors that may contribute to autism risk to earlier in life -- to the time before or just after birth,” he says, “rather than to events that might be occurring at the time symptoms are first being seen -- perhaps months or years later.”

Did your child have jaundice? What do you think of this study? Chime in below!

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