As the summer sun rises over Texas again this year, most of us are looking for the shade! But despite the Texas heat, I am reminded of what incredible benefit the sunlight has for us all, even the newest Texans that are born this summer!
Tucked deeply within the womb, each tiny baby grows, dependent completely on the placenta and the mother’s body for every need. The infinitesimally small size of the heart as it forms in the first few days of life astounds my brain. Even as it is forms it begins to pump red blood cells through the baby’s new body that is still beyond recognition to the human eye. The baby grows and the heart becomes more sophisticated. The blood pumps from the baby to the placenta where it exchanges carbon dioxide and waste products from the developing baby for nutrients and oxygen from the mother’s blood stream.
As time passes and the baby grows, the first batch of red blood cells finish their work and die off as the next set of cells takes over. The waste products from the cells are placed into the baby’s intestines to await the first bowel movement (often times ending up on the midwives scrubs in about 6 months.) The tiny body makes new blood cells, more and more as the need for oxygen increases as the baby grows.The cells become too numerous to count as the baby grows to a term and healthy newborn. Soon the placenta fulfills its duty and becomes the first organ of the baby to fully complete its role within minutes of the baby’s birth.The moment of birth has arrived. The uterus contracts and soon the baby is bathed in the light of the outside world. The lungs expand with vigor, the newly fashioned alveoli filling with life’s first birth. The body quickly finds the new lungs far easier to transfer oxygen than the placenta and no longer needs so many red blood cells to do the job.Within a few days the baby has become overrun with red blood cells that are no longer needed.Knowing there are too many, the miniature body breaks down the red blood cells into their respective parts. The iron molecule is saved for future needs, but the bilirubin, or waste products of the red blood cells, just need to be disposed. Usually, this bilirubin would progress on its journey to the liver to be processed (conjugated) and sent to the intestines for disposal. But the already immature liver can’t handle such a large influx of bilirubin all at once. Consequently the body has to store the bilirubin somewhere, awaiting such a time as the liver is able to process it. Most of it is stored in the baby’s skin.After years of study, we finally uncovered why it would be stored in the skin. While most bilirubin makes its way to the liver for processing (conjugating) the bilirubin that makes its way to the skin can be processed into disposable ‘parts’ when the sunlight hits the baby’s skin taking the strain off the liver while still allowing the body to dispose of the bilirubin. Such an awe-inspiring design that the skin and the sun would work to decrease the load on the liver! In addition to the sun, we also discovered ‘bili-lights’, that act like synthetic sunlight to allow the body to break down the bilirubin when sunlight is not enough or not available. This process is ‘phototherapy’ and is commonly used to protect newborns from the ill effects of too much bilirubin in their system.
Yet another reason to enjoy the summer sun and stand in awestruck wonder at the incredible Creator who designed the body so that the light of the sun has a place in protecting the newborn baby.