Some babies are born with jaundice, a condition that makes their skin and the whites of their eyes appear yellow. Unlike jaundice in adults or older children, infant jaundice is usually not caused by an underlying condition, such as cirrhosis or hepatitis. Most babies with jaundice do not need any treatment. In rare cases, a baby may experience complications from jaundice.
Jaundice usually appears a few days after the baby is born. The baby’s face is usually the first area to turn yellow, according to MayoClinic.com. Jaundice is extremely common, according to BabyCenter, it affects up to 60 percent of newborns within the first two weeks of life. A buildup of bilirubin, a type of pigment, in the baby’s body leads to jaundice. Usually, the liver removes bilirubin from the blood and sends it to the intestines to be discarded as waste.
Causes of Jaundice in Babies
Many cases of jaundices are a result of an immature liver. The baby’s liver is not yet able to process the amount of bilirubin produced, leading to buildup. Babies also generally produce more bilirubin than adults, according to KidsHealth. Prematurity may also cause jaundice in babies. Sometimes, breast feeding may lead to jaundice, either because the infant is unable to drink enough or because a substance in the mother’s milk prevents the baby from excreting excess bilirubin.
Cause for Concern
In some cases, jaundice may be a sign of something serious. The baby may have internal bleeding or an infection in his blood. Jaundice that does not resolve on its own and is not treated can lead to serious conditions that may be fatal for the baby. If the excess bilirubin reaches the brain, the infant may develop acute bilirubin encephalopathy, according to the MayoClinic.com. Signs of encephalopathy include a high fever, poor feeding and excess sleepiness.
Serious Vs. Non-Serious Jaundice
You may want to bring your baby to the doctor if you suspect jaundice, just to make sure it is not a serious case. KidsHealth recommends bringing your baby to the doctor right away if he develops a high fever, becomes jaundiced less than 24 hours after birth, or if the jaundice spreads. The doctor will test the level of bilirubin in the baby’s blood and will perform other tests as needed to prevent serious complications from occurring.
Treatment of Jaundice
Phototherapy is a common treatment for newborn jaundice. The baby lies under a blue light. The light alters the bilirubin so that the baby can pass it in his stool or urine, according to MayoClinic.com. Instead of being placed beneath lights, some babies may be wrapped in a mattress or blanket that emits the blue light. If light treatment does not work, some babies may need to undergo a blood transfusion in the ICU.