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Jaundice in newborns
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Jaundice in newborns

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CHILDREN'S HEALTH

Infants

Half of all newborns develop jaundice; a yellowing of the skin and eyes. Most often, jaundice isn't a concern, but severe cases can cause serious complications.

Jaundice itself isn't a disease. In most cases it occurs because your baby's liver isn't mature enough to metabolize a molecule called bilirubin, which normally forms when the body recycles old or damaged red blood cells.

In the first few days of life, more than half of all full-term babies and as many as 80 percent of premature infants who are otherwise healthy develop jaundice, a yellowish discoloration of the skin and eyes. Although some babies are jaundiced at birth, most develop the condition during the second or third day of life. That's why you may not notice it until after your baby is home.

Treatment

Mild jaundice in newborns often disappears on its own within a week or two. But if your baby has moderate or severe jaundice, he or she may need to stay longer in the newborn nursery or be readmitted to the hospital. Treatments to lower the level of bilirubin in your baby's blood may include:

  • Light therapy (phototherapy). Your baby may be placed under a special ultraviolet light or wrapped in a fiber-optic blanket of light. The light changes the bilirubin into a form that can be eliminated by your baby's kidneys. Newborns with jaundice typically receive phototherapy for several days.

  • Intravenous immunoglobulin (IVIg). If moderate to severe jaundice develops because of blood group differences between mother and baby, an intravenous transfusion of antibodies may decrease the jaundice and lessen the need for exchange blood transfusion.

  • Exchange blood transfusion. In extremely rare cases, when severe jaundice doesn't respond to other treatments, a baby may need an exchange transfusion of blood. This involves repeatedly withdrawing small amounts of blood, "diluting out" the bilirubin and maternal antibodies, and then transferring the blood back into the baby — a procedure that's performed in a newborn intensive care unit.

Self-care

When jaundice isn't severe, the following may help lower your newborn's bilirubin level:

  • More frequent feedings. Feeding more frequently will provide your baby with more calories and cause more bowel movements, increasing the amount of bilirubin passed in your baby's stool.

  • Using formula milk. Temporarily supplementing breast milk with formula or changing to formula, even for only one or two days, may quickly lower your baby's bilirubin level. You can use a breast pump to express your milk until you start breast-feeding again. Some doctors hesitate to suggest this approach, however, because they don't want to interfere with your efforts to breast-feed your baby.

 

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This information is provided for general medical education purposes only and is not meant to substitute for the independent medical judgment of a physician relative to diagnostic and treatment options of a specific patient's medical condition.
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Last Modified : 03/15/08 01:14 AM