Jaundice in newborn babies
Jaundice is a normal process in newborn babies, with about 60% of babies becoming jaundiced in the first week of life.
What is jaundice and why does it develop?
Jaundice means that your baby’s skin, and sometimes eyes, will be yellow. This is due to a yellow pigment called bilirubin. Jaundice is common in newborn babies because babies have a high level of red blood cells in their blood and these are broken down and replaced frequently. The liver in newborn babies is also not yet fully developed, so it is less effective at processing the bilirubin and removing it from the blood.
Most newborn babies with jaundice don’t need any treatment at all as their jaundice level does not rise high enough for treatment. Breastfed babies are known to be more likely to develop jaundice. Feeding your baby frequently may help to reduce this.
By the time a baby is about two weeks old, they are producing less bilirubin and their liver is more effective at removing it from the body, which means the jaundice often corrects itself by this point without causing harm.
What to do if your baby is jaundiced
Your baby will be checked for jaundice before going home. If your baby is jaundiced in the first day this is not normal newborn jaundice. In a small number of babies, there may be an underlying problem such as a blood group mismatch. If this happens, your baby will be monitored and treated appropriately in hospital.
Breastfeeding will take some time to be established. If you are concerned please seek support early please contact our office. We work with Lactation consultants in our area. This will be particularly useful if your baby appears jaundiced after you go home. We will also be able to check infants bilirubin level. In most cases, the level of jaundice is low and does not need any further tests.
Treatment for jaundice
If the level is high, you will be advised to stay in hospital (or to bring your baby in if you have gone home) for a blood test and possibly treatment with blue lights called ‘phototherapy’. The neonatal unit have overhead phototherapy lamps, where babies lie under the light with only a nappy on so the majority of the skin is exposed. This is used for higher levels of jaundice. On the postnatal ward, bilibeds are used for lower levels of jaundice. A bilibed is a phototherapyunit, where your baby lies over the light source in a soft cover or biliblanket. This is more comfortable for your baby, it keeps your baby warm and generally more settled than an overhead unit. This allows your baby to stay in a hospital cot next to your bed and your baby does not need to wear protective eye pads.
Phototherapy is the most common treatment for jaundice, and works by producing more soluble bilirubin products so that your baby can absorb them more easily. Your baby may also need extra fluids, either in the form of expressed milk, or drips. When the jaundice levels are extremely high, this could cause damage to a baby’s developing brain. This is called kernicterus and is very rare.