Neonatal jaundice

It is the most common condition that requires medical attention in new-borns. Usually, it is identified with yellow coloration of skin and eyes due to accumulation of bilirubin. Excessive accumulation of serum bilirubin may result in brain damage and other complications leading to death.

Definition:

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

This is as a result of transition baby’s blood is undergoing to adapt to the outside world.

Symptoms:

The skin of a baby with jaundice usually appears yellow.

The best way to see jaundice is in good light, such as daylight or under fluorescent lights.

Jaundice usually appears first in the face and then moves to the chest, abdomen, arms, and legs as the bilirubin level increases.

The whites of the eyes may also be yellow. Jaundice may be harder to see in babies with darker skin colour.

Causes & Risk Factors:

Jaundice is more common in babies who are breastfed than babies who are formula-fed, but this occurs mainly in infants who are not 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 will help to keep the baby's bilirubin level down.

If you are having trouble breastfeeding, ask your baby's doctor or nurse or a lactation specialist for help. Breast milk is the ideal food for your baby.

Treatment

Most jaundice requires no treatment.

When treatment is necessary, placing your baby under special lights while he or she is undressed will lower the bilirubin level. Depending on your baby's bilirubin level, this can be done in the hospital or at home.

Jaundice is treated at levels that are much lower than those at which brain damage is a concern. Treatment can prevent the harmful effects of jaundice.

Putting your baby in sunlight is not recommended as a safe way of treating jaundice. Exposing your baby to sunlight might help lower the bilirubin level, but this will only work if the baby is completely undressed.

This cannot be done safely inside your home because your baby will get cold, and new-borns should never be put in direct sunlight outside because they might get sunburned.

When to call your Doctor

Call your doctor if:

  • Your baby's skin turns more yellow
  • Your baby's abdomen, arms, or legs are yellow
  • The whites of your baby's eyes are yellow
  • Your baby is jaundiced and is hard to wake, fussy, or not nursing or taking formula well

In breastfed babies, jaundice often lasts for more than 2 to 3 weeks. In formula-fed babies, most jaundice goes away by 2 weeks. If your baby is jaundiced for more than 3 weeks, see your baby's doctor.