LOS ANGELES -- Researchers may have discovered a possible link between jaundice in newborns and an increased risk of psychological development difficulties, including autism.
Danish scientists looked at data on the 733,826 live births in Denmark between 1994 and 2004. In that group, 35,766 were diagnosed with neonatal jaundice, a fairly common illness in babies that usually goes away within a week of birth. During the study period, 1,721 children were diagnosed with a psychological development disorder, and 4,257 children died.
Being exposed to jaundice for children born at full term resulted in a 56 percent to 88 percent increased risk of acquiring a psychological development disorder and a 67 percent increased risk for infantile autism.
The possibility of being diagnosed with infantile autism was higher if the child's mother had given birth previously or if the child was born between April and September. First-time mothers in Denmark tend to have longer hospital stays, and their children could have more access to health care. Being born in spring and summer months could mean less exposure to infections and more exposure to daylight, which may decrease bilirubin levels. Bilirubin is a subtance found in bile that may cause jaundice when levels are high.
The study was published online in the journal Pediatrics.