Jaundice

What Is Jaundice?

Jaundice is the yellow colour seen in the skin of many newborns and happens when a chemical called bilirubin builds up in baby's blood. It can occur in babies of any race.

Why Does My Baby Have Jaundice?

Bilirubin in the blood is normally removed by the liver. Before birth, the mother's liver does this for the baby.

Jaundice is common in newborns because their immature livers require a few days to develop before it can eliminate the bilirubin efficiently.

Can Jaundice Harm My Baby?

Most infants have mild jaundice that is harmless. However, in some infants, the bilirubin level can be very high and this may cause brain damage.

Hence, newborns should be checked carefully for jaundice and treatment should be administered to prevent a high level of bilirubin.

How Can I Tell If My Baby Is Jaundiced?

The best way to detect jaundice is to place the baby in good light such as daylight or fluorescent lights. The skin of the baby with jaundice usually appears yellow, first in the face, thereafter moving downwards to the chest, abdomen, arms and legs as the bilirubin level increases.

The whites of the eye may also appear yellow. In tanned skin babies, jaundice may be hard to detect visually.

How Should My Baby Be Checked For Jaundice?

If your baby appears jaundiced in the first few days of life, the doctor may conduct a blood test to determine your baby's bilirubin level. A bilirubin level is always needed if jaundice develops before a baby is 24 hours old.

Further tests might be needed, depending on the age of the baby, the bilirubin level as well as other factors that predispose the baby to jaundice.

When Should My Baby Get Checked For Jaundice After Leaving The Hospital?

It is important for your baby to be seen by a nurse or doctor when your baby is between 3 to 5 days old, because this is usually the time when a baby's bilirubin level is the highest.

The timing of this visit may vary depending on the age of your baby when discharged from the hospital, advice given upon discharge and other factors.

Does Breastfeeding Affect Jaundice?

Jaundice is more common in babies who are breastfed than those on formula milk. But this occurs mainly in infants who have not been nursing well.

If you are breastfeeding, you should nurse your baby at least 8 to 12 times a day for the first few days. This will help you produce enough milk and help keep baby's bilirubin level down.

If you are having difficulty breastfeeding, consult your doctor, nurse or lactation specialist for help. Breast milk is the IDEAL food for your baby.

Which Babies Require More Attention For Jaundice?

Some babies have a greater risk for high levels of bilirubin. Risk factors include:

  • Prematurity
  • Appearance of jaundice in the first 24 hours after birth
  • Breastfeeding that is not going well
  • Bruising or bleeding under the scalp, which are related to labour and delivery
  • Family history of jaundice: A parent of sibling who had high bilirubin level and required light therapy
  • G6PD deficiency

How Is Jaundice Treated?

If your baby's bilirubin level is high, he will need to be admitted to the hospital for phototherapy. This is done by placing your unclothed baby under special lights.

Phototherapy will lower the bilirubin level. The level at which jaundice is treated is significantly lower than those at which brain damage is a concern and treatment can help prevent the harmful effects of jaundice.

However, in some occasions, the level of jaundice may be so high that phototherapy may not be effective. A special procedure known as exchange transfusion might then be necessary.

Putting your baby in sunlight is not recommended. It does not reduce the jaundice level effectively. Moreover, newborns should never be placed under direct sunlight as they might be overheated.

When Does Jaundice Go Away?

In breastfed infants, jaundice often lasts for more than 2 to 3 weeks. In formula-fed infants, most jaundice will disappear by 2 weeks.

Please consult your doctor if your baby is jaundiced for more than 2 weeks.

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