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ABC’s of Newborns- J is for Jaundice

by | Jun 26, 2019 | Infant Feeding, Newborns

The last thing new parents want to be worrying about is their baby’s health, but infant jaundice happens.

What is jaundice in newborns? 

The condition is generally characterized by a yellow discoloration of the skin and the whites of the baby’s eyes. You may notice this while you’re snuggling your newborn in the days following birth, but this usually isn’t reason enough to throw on the sweatpants and head to the ER.

Infant jaundice is most common in preterm babies (generally defined as babies born before 38 weeks gestation) and some breastfed babies. The condition is caused by an excess of bilirubin, also referred to as hyperbilirubinemia, in the baby’s bloodstream, which is a yellow
pigment in red blood cells.

The good news is, most babies born between 35 weeks and full term
do not need any treatment for jaundice, because it will clear up on its own!

Why does jaundice occur?

Naturally, newborns produce more bilirubin than adults because they are breaking down and producing more red blood cells in their first few days of life (and bilirubin is a completely normal yellowish pigment produced by the
breaking down of “used” red blood cells.)

The usual form of infant jaundice is called physiologic jaundice, which typically appears in the first few days of life.

If the jaundice occurs directly after birth or in the weeks following birth, it *may* indicate a an underlying disease or condition that needs to be reported to your pediatrician ASAP.

What babies are at higher risk for jaundice?

There are several risk factors that may predispose your baby to physiologic or severe jaundice, such as premature birth, significant bruising during birth, ethnicity, blood type, and breastfeeding.

There are a few severe complications that can arise from untreated severe jaundice (NOT the common form of infant jaundice!) If your baby exhibits a combination of listlessness, difficulty waking, high-pitched crying, poor sucking or feeding, backward arching of the neck and body, or high fever,
take him or her to the emergency room immediately.

How exactly is it treated??

Honestly, the majority of infant jaundice cases do not need treatment and will clear up on their own in a few weeks. If the jaundice does not clear up on its own, and you take your newborn back to the hospital for further
evaluation, there are a few treatments available.

The primary treatment is phototherapy, where your baby will be placed under a special blanket or lamp that emits a blue-green light. This light has the
unique ability to restructure your baby’s bilirubin molecules so that they can be excreted through human waste. If that treatment works, CONGRATS! You now have a jaundice-free, happy,
healthy baby.

In conclusion, infant jaundice is EXTREMELY common (it affects nearly 50% of newborns!!) so you shouldn’t be too worried if your baby looks a little bit yellowish in the days following birth. Most hospitals will check your baby for jaundice before you are discharged, but if not, you can never be too careful with your precious, fragile newborn. If you even suspect a case of jaundice, you can always call your provider for further advice and instruction.

Sam Steel

BIRTH DOULA, POSTPARTUM DOULA, PLACENTA SPECIALIST + BEACH LOVER

Miami Beach, FL

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We are doulas living in Miami with a love for cafecito, pregnancy and newborns. We are the experts and the moms who have been there sharing our best tips and tricks with a side of inspiration. Our goal? Help you kick ass at this parenting gig.

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