Infant Jaundice – What New Parents Should Know
That beautiful bundle of joy you have been waiting to hold in your arms is finally here. Appearing otherwise healthy, you notice after a few days that his skin has a yellow discoloration and the whites of his eyes appear yellowish. You realize that you are looking at the telltale signs of infant jaundice.Infant jaundice occurs when a baby’s blood contains too much bilirubin, which is a byproduct of red blood cell breakdown. In most cases the liver is able to effectively process bilirubin, however, newborns produce more than adults and their livers are still developing, which makes it possible for the bilirubin to build up. Infant jaundice usually occurs within the first 72 hours after birth. Babies are monitored at the hospital for jaundice as well as at the hospital follow-up appointment to ensure bilirubin levels do not reach a dangerous level. It is most common in premature babies, babies who have lost a lot of weight following delivery, in babies with diabetic mothers, and those whose birth was induced.
Treatment for Infant Jaundice
Treatment for infant jaundice is typically unnecessary unless the bilirubin levels are high, as severe jaundice in rare cases can cause deafness or even brain damage. Treatment is initiated well before levels become high to prevent this from occurring. Some doctors advise new mothers to breastfeed immediately after birth and continue breastfeeding every 3-4 hours to increase bowel movements, which eliminates excess bilirubin from the body. If treatment is indicated, the most effective treatment is a special kind of phototherapy using bili lights. With this therapy, light is absorbed by the baby’s skin and blood, which helps their body eliminate the excess bilirubin.
Natural sunlight used to be a recommended treatment, however, studies have found that it only works if the infant is completely undressed. This is not a safe option for a newborn that can easily get cold inside or sunburned outdoors.
How to Check for Infant Jaundice
New parents should keep a watchful eye on their infant for the telltale signs of jaundice. Since it can be harder to see in dark skinned children, parents should gently press their skin to see if it appears yellowish where the impression was made. The palms of their hands and soles of their feet may also have a yellow hue.
It is important to contact your child’s pediatrician if jaundice is suspected. They will perform a simple blood test to measure their bilirubin level and will determine what type of treatment, if any, is necessary.
The team at Rainbow Pediatrics is here to help. If you have questions or suspect your child may have jaundice, please contact our office to schedule an appointment at 910-486-5437.