Infant jaundice is a common condition that affects more than 50% of newborns. The most impressive and recognizable sign of being jaundice is the yellowing of the skin and of the sclerae (the whites of the eyes). In a healthy full-term newborn, nothing may have to be done. Jaundice baby treatment may have to be done in premature babies, who are particularly prone to being jaundice. Infant jaundice must be diagnosed and treated as untreated severe jaundice could lead to brain damage.
Besides yellowing of the skin, what are other symptoms of jaundice in babies?
- Look at your baby’s poop. Both breastfed and bottle-fed babies have greenish-yellow stools. Babies with jaundice have pale colored stools.
- Look at your baby’s pee. Baby’s urine should be colorless. Dark urine can be seen in jaundiced babies.
- This may be difficult to assess in a newborn since all your baby does is eat, sleep and pee/poop. If you notice drowsiness in combination with poor sucking and/or feeding, then check for the other symptoms of infant jaundice.
Now that you may be able to recognize symptoms of jaundice in babies, you may be wondering what the causes are. First, excess bilirubin is what leads to infant jaundice. Bilirubin is the waste product when red blood cells are broken down. Bilirubin is typically cleared out of our body via our liver and then our poop. Infants can develop high levels of bilirubin because newborns are born with a different type of hemoglobin that is quickly broken down after baby is born. This rapid breakdown is what can lead to high levels of bilirubin and ultimately infant jaundice.
Risk factors and causes of infant jaundice include:
- Premature birth. Premature babies have underdeveloped livers and have increased bilirubin levels as a result.
- Breast-feeding. This is due to a combination of breast-fed babies being more prone to being dehydrated and the breast milk containing substances that interferes with bilirubin breakdown.
- Liver disease
- Sickle cell anemia
- Infection (bacterial, viral, syphilis, rubella)
- Bowel obstruction
- Rhesus or ABO incompatibility. When mother’s antibodies attacks baby’s red blood cells, there is increased red blood cell breakdown and increased bilirubin.
Jaundice baby treatment depends on the severity of the bilirubin. In mild cases, no treatment may be needed in healthy full-term babies as these babies will eventually clear the bilirubin on their own. In mild to moderate infant jaundice, home treatment may be done with light therapy. The phototherapy is with light in the blue-green spectrum (430-490nm). This special spectrum of light converts the bilirubin to a form that can be excreted in the urine and stool. Phototherapy typically lasts for up to a week for a jaundiced baby needing it. In severe jaundice, a baby may have to be hospitalized to receive special treatment with IVIG or an exchange blood transfusion.
Infant jaundice is common. Before your baby leaves the hospital, bilirubin levels are typically checked. Many newborn checks are done at the pediatrician’s office when baby is one to two weeks old. This is when the pediatrician will check for signs and symptoms of infant jaundice as well. One of the best ways to prevent infant jaundice is to keep your baby well fed and hydrated with breast milk or formula feedings.