Jaundice in newborns is a yellowing of the skin and eyes caused by an excess of bilirubin, a yellow pigment that’s produced when red blood cells break down.
If your baby has been diagnosed with jaundice, you may be feeling a range of emotions from confusion and fear to relief and hope. This is completely natural. Jaundice is a common condition in newborns, but that doesn’t make it any less frightening for parents.
In this blog post, we will discuss everything you need to know about jaundice in newborns. We will cover the causes, symptoms, treatment options, and prevention methods. We hope that this information will help ease your mind and help you care for your little one.
What is jaundice in newborns?
Jaundice in newborns is a yellowing of the skin and eyes. It’s caused by an excess of bilirubin, a yellow pigment that’s produced when a baby’s red blood cells break down.
Bilirubin is a yellow substance that the body creates when it replaces old red blood cells. The liver helps break down the substance so it can be removed from the body in the stool. In some babies, the liver might not be developed enough to efficiently get rid of bilirubin. A high level of bilirubin makes a baby’s skin and the whites of the eyes look yellow. Jaundice usually appears within the first few days after birth.
When severe jaundice goes untreated for too long, it can cause a condition called kernicterus. Kernicterus is a type of brain damage that can result from high levels of bilirubin in a baby’s blood. It can cause athetoid cerebral palsy and hearing loss.
Most babies with jaundice have mild jaundice and don’t require treatment. However, some babies with jaundice may need to be treated in the hospital.
Types of jaundice in newborns
The types of jaundice in newborns are:
- Physiological jaundice – This is the most common type of jaundice and is caused by the baby’s liver not being fully developed. It usually starts on the second or third day after birth and resolves itself within one to two weeks.
- Breast milk jaundice – This type of jaundice is caused by a build-up of bilirubin in the baby’s system due to a reaction between certain substances in breast milk and the baby’s red blood cells. It usually starts around day four or five and resolves itself within two to three weeks and may appear in some healthy, breastfed babies.
- Pathological jaundice – This is the least common type of jaundice and is caused by an underlying medical condition. It usually starts on the first or second day after birth and can last for several weeks.
- Infant jaundice: Infant jaundice is a type of jaundice that can occur in newborns. It’s caused by an excess of bilirubin levels, a yellow pigment that’s produced when a baby’s red blood cells break down.
What are the symptoms of jaundice in newborns?
The most common symptom of jaundice in newborns is a yellowing of the skin and eyes. Other symptoms can include:
- Dark urine
- Pale stools
If you think your baby has jaundice, it’s important to contact your pediatrician. They will be able to confirm the diagnosis and determine if your baby needs treatment.
What are the causes of jaundice in newborns?
There are a few different causes of jaundice in newborns. The most common cause is a build-up of bilirubin in the blood. This can happen when a baby has a high number of red blood cells or when the liver isn’t able to break down bilirubin efficiently. Jaundice can also be caused by an infection or blockage in the bile ducts.
Risk factors for jaundice in newborns
There are a few different risk factors for jaundice in newborns. These include:
- Premature birth – Premature babies who are born before 37 weeks are more likely than others to have jaundice because their liver may not be fully developed
- Low birth weight – babies who weigh less than five pounds
- Family history – babies who have a family history of jaundice
- Breastfeeding – Breastfed babies who aren’t getting enough breast milk or formula
How is jaundice in newborns diagnosed?
Jaundice in newborns is typically diagnosed through a physical examination. Your pediatrician will look for signs of yellowing in the skin and eyes. They may also order a blood test to measure bilirubin levels.
Additional tests may be needed to see if a baby’s jaundice is due to an underlying condition. This may include testing your baby for their complete blood count (CBC), blood type, and Rhesus factor (Rh) incompatibility. Additionally, a Coombs test may be done to check for increased red blood cell breakdown.
How is jaundice in newborns treated?
Treatment depends on the cause of jaundice, the bilirubin levels, and a baby’s age. Mild jaundice goes away after 1 or 2 weeks as a baby’s body gets rid of the extra bilirubin on its own.
For newborns with breastfeeding jaundice, mothers should breastfeed the baby more often. If the baby is not getting enough breast milk, the doctor may suggest supplementing with formula.
Most cases of jaundice can be treated with phototherapy. Phototherapy involves exposing the baby to special lights that help break down bilirubin in the blood. In some cases, a baby may need to be hospitalized so they can receive intensive phototherapy.
In rare cases, an exchange transfusion may be necessary where your baby’s blood is removed using a thin tube (catheter) placed in their blood vessels and replaced with blood from a matching donor. This emergency procedure is done if very high bilirubin levels do not come down with phototherapy.
If your baby has jaundice, it’s important to follow your pediatrician’s instructions for treatment. With proper treatment, most babies recover from jaundice without any long-term problems.
Complications of jaundice in newborns
In rare cases, jaundice can lead to complications. These may include:
- Permanent brain damage
- Hearing loss
Kernicterus is a type of brain damage that can occur when bilirubin levels are very high. Therefore, it’s important to seek treatment for jaundice early to avoid this complication.
Preventing jaundice in newborns
You can do a few things to help prevent jaundice in your newborn. These include:
- Breastfeeding your baby often helps keep your baby’s bilirubin levels down
- Giving your baby plenty of fluids
- Avoiding smoking and exposure to smoke
- Keeping your newborn’s skin clean and dry
If you’re pregnant, it’s also important to get blood tests done to check for Rh incompatibility. This condition can cause jaundice in newborns, so it’s important to get treated before your baby is born.
Jaundice in newborns is a common condition that usually goes away on its own with time. However, it’s important to seek medical treatment if you think your baby has jaundice. With proper treatment, most babies make a full recovery.