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What is neonatal jaundice and how to treat it?

Neonatal Jaundice or newborn jaundice, can be seen as a yellowish staining or covering of the skin, and the white of the eyes called, Sclerae.

It is caused by high or low levels of a chemical or pigment, called Bilirubin in the blood. The condition can vary from each baby depending on the levels of bilirubin. You may of seen babies that are brown. This is caused by high levels of bilirubin. Low levels cause the familiar yellowish colour of skin.

Bilirubin comes from red blood cells, and when the blood cells get old, they are simply destroyed.

Hemoglobin, which carries oxygen through the blood is released from the destroyed blood cells, once the iron that it contains has been removed.

Once iron has been removed, bilirubin is the chemical that remains in the blood. And, it is a waste product

This is were the liver comes into action. The liver removes bilirubin from the blood. Once it has entered the liver cells, it becomes bile! The liver also attaches another chemical to bilirubin, called Glucuronic acid.

With the two chemicals attached to each other, which is now called Conjugated Bilirubin. They are eliminated in the feces.

Have you wonder what gives the feces the brown colour? Bilirubin!

What is neonatal jaundice and how to treat it?

How does jaundice happen?

Jaundice can occur when there is:

  • Too much bilirubin for the liver to remove out from the blood and out of the body.
  • Defected liver, that can prevent the removal of bilirubin from the blood, attaching glucuronic acid to it, and discharging it as bile.
  • Bile ducks blocked, so that they decrease the flow of bile and bilirubin from the liver straight into the intestines. Gallstones can cause this. The decrease of secretion of bile can result in jaundice.

Newborns with Jaundice

Jaundice in newborn babies is different that other types of jaundice.

Jaundice turns the skin yellow. Yellowing of the skin can be light or extremely strong in colour. Also the baby’s stool can be light in colour, even the colour of clay, because of the absence of bilirubin, which gives stool the brown colour.

Neonatal Jaundice

This is the jaundice we see in babies, and it typically begins a few days after birth.

Fact is, that bilirubin levels in blood become increased in almost all babies during the first few days or first week after birth. Neonatal jaundice, occurs in more than half of baby births. It’s nothing unusual.

It’s actually a normal, physiological condition that does not cause problems.

  • Mild cases of jaundice do not need to be treated, as the problem will resolve on its own.
  • Breastfeeding is a great way to eliminate extra built up bilirubin in the baby. Continue to breastfeed regularly.
  • With breastfeeding, just make sure that your baby is latched on well. If he or she isn’t, then your baby will not be getting the correct amount of calories that he or she needs, and so good cause a more severe case of neonatal jaundice.
  • If baby seems sleepy because of the jaundice, make sure to wake up baby for a feed, and feed regularly.
  • Always keep in-touch with your doctor, or the nurse that comes around to check on baby. If the bilirubin levels do get too high, then Phototherapy may be needed. This is a special light, like UV light, that helps to dissolve the extra bilirubin in the skin.

(I call it the first free beauty session the baby gets.)

  • If you want to, you can use a Photo-optic bilirubin blanket at home. Just ask your doctor about it.
  • Sometimes, if you are breastfeeding, you may need to add a supplement, such as formula every so often through the day. Especially if you are not producing enough milk.This supplement will keep you baby topped up with fluids, which will help decrease the levels of bilirubin levels. Check with a lactation consultant.

The causes of neonatal jaundice are well understood, and it starts in the uterus.

The uterus’s red blood cells contain a type of hemoglobin that’s different that the one that is present after you give birth.

When you baby is born, the baby rapidly starts to destroy the red blood cells containing adult hemoglobin. So, naturally, this floods the baby’s liver with bilirubin that had come from the fetal hemoglobin.

At this point, the new liver of the newborn baby is not mature, and its ability to process and eliminate the bilirubin is very limited.

So, what’s the result? Both the large amounts of bilirubin and immaturity of the liver, bilirubin accumulates in the blood of the baby.

Happily, between 2 weeks and 4 weeks, the red blood cells are destroyed, the baby’s liver matures, and the bilirubin levels return to normal.

There is a second condition that can cause neonatal jaundice, and it is called Breast milk jaundice. Click on the link to find out more about it. (I promise, it’s fascinating!)

Treating neonatal jaundice

There is the self-care at home treatment, where good old fashion sunlight, will break down the bilirubin, so that the baby’s liver can process it more easily.

  • Placing the baby in a well lit, sun shine filled room for only 10 minutes, is often all that is needed to help cure the mild jaundice.

** Never place the baby directly in sun light **
If the baby has been diagnosed with high levels of bilirubin, then the hospital will set out a schedule of treatment.

The baby will probably have a treatment of phototherapy. This involves placing the baby under some special lights that can be fitted to an incubator or the baby’s sleeping cot.

It will seem like that the baby is getting a session of tanning. The baby’s eyes will be covered, by a mask of some sort. This is to protect their delicate eyes.

I hope this neonatal jaundice article has cleared a few things up!

As you can see from some of the pictures, our own daughters have had the free tanning session when they were 5 days old.

We as parents were worried, only because they were 5 weeks, 4 days premature. But everything is super now!