Common questions new parents ask: Newborn jaundice – Newborn care.
Should I worry about my newborn getting jaundice?
Most healthy babies develop a yellowish tinge to their skin in the first few days of life. If your baby does, it’s probably nothing to worry about.
Your doctor will monitor your baby during the first few days, especially if your baby’s abdomen or legs look yellow.
If your child is born full-term, she’s sure to look like a healthy baby within a week. It may take a bit longer for her skin to take on a rosy glow if she is born prematurely.
What causes jaundice in a baby?
Most parents panic when they hear their baby has jaundice as they think it’s the same ailment which affects adults. Jaundice in healthy infants, unlike in adults, is not due to problems in the liver.
Jaundice develops in a healthy baby when her blood contains an excess of bilirubin – a chemical produced during the normal breakdown of old red blood cells.
Newborns tend to have higher levels because they have extra oxygen-carrying red blood cells and their young livers can’t metabolise the excess bilirubin.
As the baby’s bilirubin level rises above normal, the yellowness spreads downwards from the head to the neck, to the chest, and in severe cases, to the toes. Unless it’s a serious case, your baby’s jaundice will usually not cause any damage.
In severe but rare cases of jaundice caused by liver disease or maternal blood incompatibility, newborns may suffer damage to the nervous system.
How common is jaundice in newborns?
60 per cent of full-term infants develop jaundice on the second or third day after birth. It usually peaks by around the fifth or sixth day and then starts to decrease. In most babies it disappears after one week, though some babies may take about a fortnight to recover completely.
80 per cent of premature babies develop it between the fifth and seventh days after delivery. It usually disappears within a month of birth.
Some studies suggest that mothers with gestational diabetes may have a higher risk of giving birth to babies with jaundice.
Some studies also suggest that the male child is more likely to have jaundice than a female.
Babies of mothers with blood group O have a higher chance of developing jaundice.
How can jaundice in my baby be treated?
If your baby looks jaundiced, your doctor may suggest tests to measure the bilirubin level in her blood. If your baby was born at term and is otherwise healthy, most doctors will not begin treatment, unless the bilirubin level is over 16 milligrams per decilitre of blood but it also depends on the age of the baby.
Since the early 1970s, jaundice has been treated with phototherapy, a process in which infants are exposed to fluorescent-type lights which break down excess bilirubin. The baby usually lies naked under the lights for a day or two, with her eyes covered by a protective mask.
If the level of bilirubin doesn’t require phototherapy, you can still help your baby by taking her out into the sunlight in the early morning or late afternoon. Take care not to expose your baby for too long since her delicate skin is prone to sunburns.
In the rare case of blood-type incompatibility where the bilirubin level can rise to dangerously high levels, your baby may need a blood transfusion. The Rh blood test you have when you are pregnant should alert you in advance about any incompatibility with your baby, and you will be given anti-D injections to avoid this problem.
How can I tell if my baby has jaundice?
Since jaundice is common in Indian babies, doctors usually watch out for tell-tale signs while you are still in the hospital. If you suspect your baby has jaundice once you get back home, you may want to try this quick home test recommended by experts.
In a well-lit room, apply gentle pressure to your baby’s chest. If there’s a yellow tinge to the skin as the pressure is released, consult your doctor. This technique works best for fair-skinned babies; for others, check for yellowness in the whites of the eyes, nails, palms or gums.
Remember, jaundice in babies is a temporary condition which usually clears up quickly without any intervention and has no long-term effects (except in severe cases). If you have any doubts, check with your doctor to make sure you’re taking the right steps to getting your baby back in the pink.
When should I worry about jaundice in my baby?
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