Newborn Jaundice: What You Should Know

January 4, 2020
Newborn jaundice doesn't mean a baby has a serious disease. Learn more about this condition here.

The fears and doubts of parents about their newborns are so wide that any rash or symptom can concern them. In the case of newborn jaundice, however, know that it isn’t something you should worry about. Nevertheless, you should supervise it so it doesn’t reach extreme conditions. In today’s article, you’ll find more information about newborn jaundice as well as advice on how to act to keep it from getting worse.

The causes of newborn jaundice

The definition of jaundice is “yellowing of the skin and mucous membranes.” Bilirubin, a substance that appears when the red blood cells decrease is usually the cause. A blood test is the best way to find out its exact levels.
 
However, the yellowing of the baby isn’t a serious condition when bilirubin levels aren’t too high. When they are, then the baby has hyperbilirubinemia and needs hospitalization. This action is for controlling and monitoring.
 
It’s normal for the skin of a newborn to be a little yellow after two or three days after birth. This is because their liver should remove excess bilirubin. However, it needs some time to adjust after birth before it begins to work as it should.

Also read: Biliary Atresia: Symptoms and Treatment

Treatment

Now that you know newborn jaundice isn’t a serious condition, you must know how to deal with it. All you need to do so is to follow some basic procedures:
  • Keep track of your newborn’s feeding schedule. If you’re breastfeeding them, then ensuring food intake will be a bit more complicated. Breastfeeding-related jaundice is rare and usually appears a week after birth. Only a pediatrician can assess the newborn and tell if they should stop breastfeeding for a day or two.
  • Home-phototherapy. This is a technique used in neonatology units in the treatment of hyperbilirubinemia. If they don’t need hospitalization, then you can do it at home. All you have to do is expose the newborn to sunlight for 10 minutes a day. Make sure they wear a diaper and eye protection. The best time to do so is before 9 in the morning.
A newborn in an incubator.

Identify possible risk situations

As we mentioned above, newborn jaundice is quite common, so there’s no reason for concern. But, you must be aware of certain signs that need medical evaluation:
  • Early-onset of newborn jaundice. If the color is present from the first day of life, then the pediatrician will do a blood test to assess it.
  • Newborn jaundice may go on for a baby’s first two weeks of life. This is the time the liver needs to adjust before it begins to function as it should.

Newborn jaundice complications

When bilirubin levels go up, they invade brain cells. Thus, they alter the metabolism and neural function. Doctors refer to this as kernicterus. To prevent it, consult your pediatrician so they can look at the yellowing of the baby a week after birth.
 
The pediatrician will do any appropriate tests to assess bilirubin levels. So, if the values ​​are extreme, they’ll hospitalize the infant for phototherapy therapy.

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Hospital phototherapy procedure

A woman looking at a baby in an incubator.

A newborn in need of phototherapy will need hospitalization for several days. Most hospitals nowadays allow parents to be with their children 24 hours a day. However, it’s also important to take some breaks to rest at home.
Nurses in neonatology units can do provide basic care to newborns with hyperbilirubinemia. You must follow the recommendations of specialized personnel. Also, don’t stop breastfeeding the baby. However, follow the indications of hospital professionals to do so.

Conclusion

The skin changes resulting from jaundice during the first days of a newborn’s life are normal. However, it’s important to keep an eye on it and see your doctor if you notice any changes or it isn’t going away.

  • Cifuentes Recondo, J. (2012). Ictericia en el recién nacido. Medwave. https://doi.org/10.5867/medwave.2006.05.1984
  • García-Alix, A., Martínez Biarge, M., Arnaez, J., Valverde, E., & Quero, J. (2008). Protocolos de Neonatología. In Nenonatología Protocolos AEP.
  • Neil, K., & Zieve, D. (2018). Ictericia del recién nacido. MedlinePlus.