Jaundice in babies is a very common occurrence, however it still needs to be handled quickly and by a medical professional. Find out more below about what jaundice is, what causes it and how to prevent and treat it properly.
What is Jaundice?
Very common in newborns, jaundice is the yellowing of a baby’s skin or eyes caused by a high level of bilirubin, a yellow pigment that the body produces as a result of the normal breakdown of red blood cells. Due to a baby’s liver not being fully developed, the body cannot entirely rid itself of all the bilirubin that has been produced, which thus accumulates in the skin, resulting in a yellowish hue. Nearly all babies have some level of jaundice, though some more severe than others, until the liver matures more and can completely filter the bilirubin.
Though jaundice is not painful it can develop into serious complications if the elevated bilirubin levels are not treated. This serious condition is referred to as hyperbilirubinemia and can be toxic to the nervous symptom, potentially resulting in brain damage.
The most obvious symptom of jaundice is the yellowing of the skin and later, whites of the eyes. The changes in the color of skin may first be noticeable in the face and then progress further down the chest, abdomen, arms and finally the legs. Some infants don’t have a slow progression of jaundice and instead appear to have a tan over the entirety of the body.
To test whether you child has jaundice, simple press one finger onto your baby’s forehead or nose and then release. If you baby has jaundice the skin will appear yellow upon release. You can then perform the same test on the chest, hips and knees to see how far the jaundice has progressed.
When to call the doctor:
Most children are tested before they leave the hospital for jaundice, however upon arriving home if you notice any of the below symptoms you should notify your baby’s doctor immediately.
- If color of the skin is a more intense yellow, such as an orange yellow
- If baby is having issues feeding
- If baby develops a fever over 100 degrees
- If baby is difficult to wake
- If baby is irritable
What Causes Jaundice?
Though most babies are born with some degree of jaundice, there are some babies who are at a higher risk.
Those at a higher risk for developing jaundice are:
- babies born premature
- babies who aren’t receiving enough breast milk or formula
- babies who’s blood type isn’t compatible with their mother’s blood type
Other more severe causes of jaundice include:
- bruising at birth or other internal bleeding
- liver issues
- enzyme deficiency
- abnormality in red blood cells
There really isn’t any way to prevent jaundice, especially if your baby is born prematurely as their liver has yet to fully develop in order to process the amount of bilirubin that has been produced. Though you can’t prevent jaundice from developing, you can prevent it from worsening.
To prevent jaundice from becoming more severe:
Make sure that your baby is getting enough nutrition. Feed your baby 8 to 12 times a day for the first several days to ensure that your baby is staying properly hydrated to help the bilirubin pass through the liver more efficiently.
Babies with mild jaundice typically won’t need to receive any treatment, however those with more severe cases will require treatment to help them combat the level of bilirubin in the body.
The simplest and easiest way to prevent as well as combat jaundice is to ensure adequate feeding. Providing enough breast milk or formula for the baby promotes elimination of bilirubin through stool and urine. You will know that your baby is receiving enough milk or formula if he or she has at least six wet diapers per day along with yellowish colored stool.
The most common treatment of jaundice is called phototherapy, or light therapy. This treatment is most often the only treatment necessary. Phototherapy consists of exposing a baby to blue light that helps to break down bilirubin into parts that are easier to eliminate through the baby’s stool and urine. This treatment is typically done at hospitals, however it can also be done at home in certain circumstances.
Jaundice disappears quickly, in most cases only lasting two to three weeks. Any symptoms of jaundice that persist longer than three weeks may be a sign of a more serious underlying condition and should be monitored at a hospital. Newborn babies are examined for jaundice every time their vital signs are measured, roughly every 8 to 12 hours, and are cleared before they are discharged from the hospital as well as when they return a few days later for a check-up.
Even though jaundice is common in newborn babies it still needs to be taken seriously and handled quickly and efficiently to prevent a further progression. Proper feeding to ensure your baby is receiving the nutrition he or she needs as well as close monitoring by a doctor is the best way to make sure that your baby is safe and healthy.