What is it?
As many as half of all full-term babies and three-quarters of all premature
babies develop jaundice. Jaundice-yellowing of the skin and eyes-is usually a
normal adjustment to living outside the womb and no treatment is necessary.
However, in rare cases, it’s caused by an infection or a birth defect.
What Causes Jaundice?
Yellowing of the skin and eyes occurs when there’s too much bilirubin present
in the bloodstream. Bilirubin is a yellow pigment that is the end result of the
breakdown of hemoglobin (the oxygen-carrying protein) present in all red blood
cells. Normally, bilirubin is carried to the liver and processed and eliminated
through the feces and urine. In newborns, this system gets overloaded, so the
yellow pigments collect in the bloodstream.
Types of Jaundice
- Physiologic Jaundice- While inside the airfree
womb, an infant’s body produces more red blood cells to get the oxygen needed.
After birth, the infant’s body may have trouble eliminating bilirubin fast
enough, so it may accumulate in the blood and diffuse into the skin.
- Pathologic Jaundice-A disease or abnormality is
present, which causes the bilirubin numbers to elevate. The most common types
of pathologic jaundice in newborns are Rh and ABO blood incompatibilities. A
liver disease or infection could also be the cause.
- Breast-Milk Jaundice- It is believed that a
substance in the breast milk slows down the newborn’s ability to process the
bilirubin. This may not cause a problem for the baby, and breastfeeding may
not have to be interrupted, except in rare cases when the bilirubin levels are
very high. The jaundice will be seen in the first week of life and may take
four to six weeks to clear up.
Because very high levels of bilirubin can be damaging, causing cerebral palsy
or death, close monitoring and treatment may be necessary. A common treatment
used to rid high levels of bilirubin from an infant is photo therapy. This type
of treatment uses artificial light to photo-oxidize (decompose) the
light-sensitive bilirubin. If the Jaundice is mild, nothing may be done except
to monitor the baby.
What You Can Do
- Avoid drugs during pregnancy that are known to cause
jaundice, such as Valium, aspirin and hydrocortisone.
- Breast-feed your child as soon as possible after birth
and frequent thereafter. Colostrum, the first milk, is an excellent laxative
which will speed up the passage of the first stool, which is loaded with
- Be informed about your child’s bilirubin levels and treatment