What is Jaundice?
The big “J” word. It is a word many new mothers hear, and many new mothers fear – especially if they have had to deal with it before. There are many levels of jaundice that new parents and their newborn may have to deal with, and it can range from mild to severe.
Jaundice is a condition that will cause a yellowish tint in the skin of some babies shortly after birth. It is caused by a higher than normal amount of bilirubin in the blood that the liver is unable to break down faster than it is made. Several things can lead to the lack of break down and the jaundice in a newborn.
- The baby’s liver may not be developed enough to break down the blood cells
- More bilirubin is being made than the baby can break down
- Bilirubin is being absorbed back into the intestines before it can be passed through stools
Bilirubin numbers will generally be taken in the hospital before you leave. The number your baby should be at changes each day as your baby gets old. As a rule, anything over 20 is considered dangerous; however as a baby approaches that number the doctor may start worrying. Once a bilirubin level hits 20 it can cause deafness, cerebral palsy or brain damage in your baby. In some cases a high level of bilirubin can signify a situation of hepatitis in a baby.
There are several types of jaundice a baby can have. These include Physiological (normal) jaundice, Jaundice of prematurity, Breast milk jaundice and Blood group incompatibility (Rh or ABO problems). Physiological jaundice occurs in 50% of newborns. It normally appears between 2-4 days after birth and can last for a couple of weeks. Jaundice of prematurity is common in premature babies because their livers are generally underdeveloped and can’t expel the bilirubin properly.
Breast milk jaundice can occur when there is a substance in a mother’s milk that causes the bilirubin level to rise. This generally occurs between 4-7 days after birth and can last up till the baby is 10 weeks old. When jaundice is caused by a blood group incompatibility is caused when a mother has a different blood type than her baby. This however can be avoided in some cases now by the mother being given Rh shots while pregnant.
If the jaundice is severe enough there several different “treatments” that your doctor may suggest to help your baby get rid of the bilirubin quicker. There is a specialized blanket that is supposed to help lessen the levels of bilirubin your baby’s blood. If that does not work they have special beds that your baby can “sun-bathe” in, giving your baby phototherapy. During phototherapy there is a special light used to alter the bilirubin and make it easier for your babies’ body to get rid of it. Often times you will be asked to feed your baby more, or to quit nursing temporarily as a way to help the bilirubin clear the body.
If you are afraid your baby has jaundice you should call your pediatrician and get him looked at. Getting some reassurance that your newborn is ok is worth it.
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