Jaundice in babies
Jaundice refers to yellow discolouration of the skin or white of the eyes. There are 2 types of jaundice in babies: Newborn jaundice (Jaundice that develops within first few days of life) and prolonged jaundice (Jaundice lasting more than 2 weeks)
What is Newborn jaundice?
Jaundice is caused by a buildup of bilirubin in the blood. Bilirubin is produced when red blood cells break down. The bilirubin is then processed in the liver and excreted through the intestines. In newborn babies, there is an increased breakdown of red blood cells. The liver of the newborn is not mature hence it is less effective in handling the increased bilirubin leading to jaundice.
How can I tell if my baby is jaundiced?
Gently press one finger to your baby’s nose or forehead. If the skin becomes yellow when you press, your baby has jaundice.
Assessment and treatment of newborn jaundice
Jaundice occurs in about 60% of newborn term infants. In some cases, jaundice may be severe and lead to brain damage. It is important to get your baby’s jaundice checked especially if there are signs of increasing yellowness of the skin, high-pitched cry, difficult to wake etc.
Your doctor will examine your baby and if indicated measure your baby’s jaundice level by a simple blood test or scan. If the bilirubin level is high, light therapy (also known as phototherapy) may be necessary usually for a few days.
My baby’s jaundice has persisted beyond 2 weeks. Should I be worried?
There are many reasons why a baby’s jaundice may be prolonged (lasting more than 2 weeks). The most common cause is breastmilk jaundice. Nobody knows the exact cause of breastmilk jaundice but it may be related to a substance in breastmilk that affects the way the infant’s liver handle bilirubin. Breastmilk jaundice resolves spontaneously after a few weeks.
It is recommended that babies who are still jaundiced beyond two weeks are checked by a paediatric gastroenterologist or paediatrician. Apart from breast milk jaundice, there are other conditions that cause prolonged jaundice such as liver disease, infection, hormone problems, metabolic conditions etc.