What Causes a Baby to be Born With Liver Problems?

Babies can be born with liver problems for a variety of reasons, and the underlying causes may differ. Some of the common factors that can contribute to liver problems in newborns include:

  • Genetic Conditions: Some liver problems in newborns are caused by inherited genetic conditions that affect the structure or function of the liver. Examples of such conditions include Alagille syndrome, progressive familial intrahepatic cholestasis (PFIC), and cystic fibrosis.
  • Metabolic Disorders: Certain metabolic disorders can lead to liver dysfunction in infants. These disorders affect the body’s ability to process and store nutrients. Examples include galactosemia and hereditary fructose intolerance.
  • Infections: Infections that affect the liver can be transmitted from the mother during pregnancy or after birth. Hepatitis B and hepatitis C are examples of viral infections that can affect the liver.
  • Neonatal Jaundice: Jaundice, a yellowing of the skin and eyes, is common in newborns and often occurs due to the immature liver’s inability to efficiently process bilirubin, a waste product of the breakdown of red blood cells. Severe or prolonged jaundice can indicate an underlying liver issue.
  • Biliary Atresia: Biliary atresia is a congenital condition in which the bile ducts, which carry bile from the liver to the gallbladder and intestines, are blocked or absent. This condition can lead to liver damage.
  • Neonatal Hepatitis: Neonatal hepatitis is a term used to describe inflammation of the liver in a newborn. It can have various causes, including infections, metabolic disorders, or autoimmune conditions.
  • Prematurity: Premature infants may have underdeveloped organs, including the liver, which can lead to liver problems.
  • Inborn Errors of Metabolism (IEMs): Some IEMs can manifest in infancy and affect the liver’s metabolic processes. For example, tyrosinemia and urea cycle disorders can lead to liver issues.
  • Maternal Drug or Alcohol Use: Exposure to certain medications or alcohol during pregnancy can harm the developing liver of the fetus.
  • Maternal Health Conditions: Some maternal health conditions, such as gestational diabetes and preeclampsia, can indirectly affect the baby’s liver health.

It’s essential to diagnose and address liver problems in newborns promptly, as the liver is a vital organ responsible for various metabolic and detoxification functions. Timely intervention and treatment can help manage or even correct many liver issues in infants. Newborns with suspected liver problems may undergo various medical tests, including blood tests, imaging, and sometimes liver biopsies, to determine the cause and develop an appropriate treatment plan. Treatment can range from medical management to surgical interventions, depending on the specific condition. Pediatric hepatologists and neonatologists typically manage and treat liver problems in infants.