Jaundice in Babies

Every new mother dreams of her baby being born healthy and happy. Naturally, you envision your baby being perfect. Sometimes this isn’t always the case. This is especially true in premature babies. I know this firsthand. Jaundice in babies is a very common condition, affecting about 60% of newborns. Not to worry, it is usually harmless and very easily treated if need be.

What is Jaundice?

Jaundice in infants is characterized by yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes. It is caused from an excessive production of bilirubin. This typically occurs when the liver can not adequately process and excrete the amount of bilirubin that is being produced. A doctor can confirm diagnosis through a simple blood test that measures the amount of bilirubin level present in the blood.

Neonatal jaundice is most prevalent in premature babies due to an immature liver that is still developing and unable to efficiently break down bilirubin. It can also develop in breastfed babies who are not receiving adequate nutrition as a result from problems with breast-feeding. It is usually not harmful, but it can lead to complications in premature infants with high bilirubin levels.

Left untreated, high levels can potentially lead to deafness, cerebral palsy, and in severe cases it can even lead to brain damage. Fortunately, the condition is very easy to treat if necessary and requires noninvasive options. It usually presents itself on the 2nd or 3rd day of your baby’s birth.

Having had two early babies myself, they spent their first few days of life in the NICU where they were quickly diagnosed and treated for jaundice. Healthy babies, however, usually go home after their 2nd day of life, so it’s possible for your baby to develop jaundice once they’re home. If you notice your baby’s skin appears yellow, here are the signs to look for to detect jaundice and when medical attention is necessary:

  • Jaundice is present within baby’s first 24 hours of life
  • Yellowing of the skin deepens or intensifies and is spreading to the rest of the body
  •  A rectal temperature that is over 100 degrees.
  • Your baby appears to be sick or isn’t feeding well

If you notice any of the symptoms mentioned you should contact your physician immediately.

phototherapyIf your baby’s bilirubin level is high enough that it does requires treatment, phototherapy is typically the choice of treatment your doctor will advise. This requires placing baby under a special type of light that helps baby’s liver to break it down more easily so that it can be excreted. It may also be recommended to supply frequent feedings of breast milk or formula to help your baby expel the extra bilirubin.

Jaundice in babies that are full term and otherwise healthy will usually take care of itself within a week or two. Do not be alarmed if your baby is diagnosed with this condition where mild treatment is recommended. Once your baby’s blood has resumed normal bilirubin levels and they are no longer receiving treatment, chances are highly unlikely that they will need any additional treatments or medical attention afterwards for it.

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