Jaundice in Newborn Babies
What is Jaundice?
Jaundice is a common and usually harmless condition that occurs when your baby has a high level of bilirubin — an orange-yellow substance produced during the normal breakdown of red blood cells — circulating in his or her blood. It is usually easy to spot because of the yellowish discolouration of your baby’s skin, whites of the eyes and the mucus membranes (inside of the mouth).
Jaundice (physiological jaundice) is common in newborn babies and will usually clear without treatment.
Common jaundice symptoms include:
- Yellow discolouring of the skin, whites of the eyes (sclera), and mucus membranes
- Yellowing of the palms of the hands or soles of the feet
- Dark yellow urine
- Pale-coloured faeces
How is jaundice treated?
If your baby’s bilirubin level is high, he will need to be admitted to the hospital for phototherapy. This is done by placing your unclothed baby under special lights.
Phototherapy will lower the bilirubin level. The level at which jaundice is treated is significantly lower than those at which brain damage is a concern and treatment can help prevent the harmful effects of jaundice.
Myths about Jaundice
Putting your baby in sunlight is not recommended. It does not reduce the jaundice level effectively. Newborns should never be placed under direct sunlight as they might be overheated or risk getting sunburn.
Sometimes, newborns who are exclusively breastfed may have prolonged jaundice, but this is not a reason to stop breastfeeding or to supplement it with water.
In fact, mothers are recommended to nurse newborns at least eight to 12 times a day during the first few days help them produce enough milk and help keep the baby’s bilirubin level down.
In most cases, neonatal jaundice is mild and harmless, and will go away within a few weeks at most. However, in some infants, the bilirubin level can be very high, and this may cause brain damage.
Newborns should be checked carefully for jaundice when they are a few days old, and treatment should be administered to prevent a high level of bilirubin.