Jaundice in Newborns
Jaundice is caused by an increase in blood levels of bilirubin, which is a waste product made when haemoglobin in red blood cells is broken down. Newborn babies have immature liver enzymes and are unable to chemically transform (metabolise) this bilirubin effectively for later excretion. Babies who are born underweight and those born to diabetic mothers are particularly likely to become jaundiced.
A natural build-up of unmetabolised bilirubin is termed physiological jaundice. Normal physiological jaundice always develops after the first 24 first hours of life. Now that mothers and babies are discharged early from hospital, most cases of jaundice appear after the baby comes home.
Mild jaundice looks like a slight suntan. It usually starts on the head and progresses to the feet. In more severe cases, the whites of the eyes become yellow.
Many GPs visit new mothers after they come home from hospital. If the baby is jaundiced, the GP may examine the baby to look for anaemia or an enlarged liver. If the baby’s urine is dark or the faeces pale, blood and urine tests are needed urgently.
Physiological jaundice usually disappears by the time the baby is two weeks old. The most important treatment is to make sure the baby is getting enough milk. If the mother is breast-feeding, she should be encouraged to continue or seek advice if there are difficulties. Weighing the baby regularly reveals whether there is an adequate fluid and calorie intake.
If the jaundice is severe, or the baby seems drowsy or has difficulty feeding, the midwife will take blood to measure the bilirubin level. Charts help the doctor decide whether phototherapy (light treatment) is needed to help break the bilirubin down.
The Baby and Toddler Health Guide is an exhaustive guide to your baby and child’s health. From anaemia to hyperactivity deficit disorder, the mopst common illnesses that afflict babies and young children...
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