Jaundice is not a disease and in the majority of newborn babies, it is not dangerous. The medical term for jaundice in babies is neonatal jaundice. It is likely to appear when your new baby is about two to four days old. This is a common condition affecting almost half of all newborns. It refers to the yellowish appearance of the skin and whites of the eyes.
A common test is to lightly press your finger against the skin. If this causes a yellowing tinge on the baby’s skin, this is a likely sign of jaundice. It is caused by the breakdown of red blood cells shortly after birth resulting in an excessive of a pigment in the blood called bilirubin.
A newborn is unable to excrete the bilirubin fast enough as a result of an immature liver. In most cases no treatment is required and this will clear within one to two weeks. However newborn jaundice that persists longer than three weeks may be a symptom of an underlying condition.
The level of bilirubin can be monitored with a photometer ‘Bilicheck’. A blood test will follow if the level is high. Some babies will then undergo treatment for jaundice with phototherapy. They are placed under a blue spectrum light. Special protection is taken against the eyes such as goggles or cotton wool pads. The exposure to ultraviolet light lasts for about 12 hours. This effective treatment uses the light to break down bilirubin in a baby’s body.
In severe cases an exchange transfusion may be necessary. This is a type of blood transfusion where small amounts of your baby’s blood are removed and replaced with blood from a matching donor.
There is no prevention for newborn jaundice but there are some precautions to keep it from becoming more severe. Make sure your baby gets sufficient nutrients through breast milk or if you choose not to breastfeed, then through formula feeds. Regular feeds will ensure they are never dehydrated thus helping the bilirubin pass through the body quicker.