What is newborn jaundice?
Jaundice refers to the yellowish coloring of the skin and whites of the eyes. Jaundice occurs in up to 50% of newborns, generally requires no treatment, and usually resolves within a few days to a couple of weeks.
What causes newborn jaundice?
Jaundice is caused by a build up of bilirubin in the blood. Red blood cells normally breakdown and are replaced with new cells every 3 months. Bilirubin is a by product of these broken down red blood cells. Bilirubin is usually processed in the liver and excreted through the intestines through the baby's stool. A newborn's liver is often immature and unable to breakdown all the bilirubin. Therefore the baby's bilirubin level rises and the pigment can be seen in the skin and eyes.
Can jaundice hurt my baby?
Newborn jaundice usually is harmless. However, if bilirubin levels are high enough the bilirubin can deposit in the brain causing permanent brain damage. Your baby will be screened for jaundice in the hospital and usually again within 3-5 days of his birth. If bilirubin levels are elevated, your baby will be treated for jaundice.
Signs and symptoms of newborn jaundice
Yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes is the primary symptom of jaundice. Babies with jaundice may be more sleepy and less interested in feeding.
Treatment of jaundice
Your baby will be initially screened for jaundice in the hospital with a heel stick blood test. The blood test checks for the amount of bilirubin in the blood. Your doctor may want to recheck your baby's bilirubin levels again three to five days after birth. If bilirubin levels are high enough, your doctor will order phototherapy for your baby. Phototherapy may be done in the hospital with bililights or at home with a biliblanket. If bililights are used, your baby will be placed in a bed under special lights that help break down the bilirubin. Biliblankets can be used in the home and work similarly to bililights. A special pad with lights is placed directly on the baby's skin underneath the baby's clothing.
Baby with biliblanket
If your baby has jaundice, you will want to encourage frequent feedings. Bilirubin is excreted in your baby's stools so frequent feeding will help your baby get rid of excess bilirubin.
Rarely, a blood transfusion may be necessary to treat jaundice.