New parents hear the word “jaundice” and immediately start to worry. Something is wrong with their precious new baby! Luckily jaundice is not usually a bad situation for the baby, and most babies get over it quickly. Here’s an overview of the different types of jaundices and different treatments.
Jaundice is a condition caused by a build-up of a substance called bilirubin inside your baby’s body. New babies often have trouble quickly breaking down the build-up and eliminating it from their bodies. This build-up causes a slightly yellow tint to a newborn baby’s skin and the whites of his eyes.
Excess bilirubin can cause problems if the levels keep rising without going down. In general, though, this does not happen. It’s very normal for babies to get a little jaundiced (though some babies never do). This usually occurs around the second or third day of life up through the first week. After that babies are usually breaking down bilirubin and moving it out just fine.
Sometimes babies will not be able to clear jaundice out properly on their own. Doctors usually call this “breastmilk jaundice” and say that the baby needs some supplement to her mother’s milk in order to break down and move the bilirubin out. Sometimes this is the case and sometimes it’s just an overreaction.
Problematic jaundice usually starts very early, even on the first day of the baby’s life, and can last past the first week of the baby’s life. These are situations where the jaundice needs to be monitored closely by health care professionals.
There are special situations where jaundice may be more worrisome. A premature baby cannot eliminate bilirubin efficiently and may need special help to keep it cleared.
Babies born with congenital problems may also have to struggle with bilirubin build-up in the body. If your baby had a traumatic birth experience or requires a stay in the NICU the nurses will be watching carefully for jaundice problems.
Treatments for Jaundice
Prevention is often the best medicine for a baby. Sunlight helps your baby break down bilirubin and prevents its buildup. You can put your baby in indirect sunlight (near a sunny window, for instance) dressed in nothing or just a diaper. Keep your baby in the light for about five minutes, then turn him to the other side for another five minutes. This will help prevent most jaundice.
In the past it was recommended to take babies outside for a brief walk every day. This is not bad advice for helping keep the bilirubin at bay!
If your baby becomes very jaundiced there are a couple of options. The first is to put baby in an isolette under what are called “bili-lights.” These lights mimic the sun and help break the bilirubin down fast. It’s a good option for a baby who is struggling with jaundice and high bilirubin levels. The baby’s eyes must be covered, and she’s kept away from your arms, however. It can be traumatic for a young baby.
A newer option is called a “bili-blanket”. This blanket is wrapped around the baby and provides light to break down the bilirubin in the baby’s body. It’s a good solution because you can still hold and cuddle your baby and his eyes don’t need to be covered. The blanket can often come home with you for the few days your baby will need it.
Jaundice is a normal event in the life of many newborns. A little sunlight and good feeding usually clears it up right away.