It’s been 35 years since my baby – now a grown man – was born with jaundice. It was very unsettling, and really upsetting, to see my newborn’s skin, as well as the whites of his eyes, turn a disturbing yellow color. We were still in the hospital from the delivery – although many parents don’t see signs of jaundice until the baby is at home – and I was told the basics of what was causing the health problem. It was simple yet complicated; alarming but treatable.
My experience with my newborn baby’s jaundice was not unique. Newborns often produce elevated levels of bilirubin, produced when red blood cells break down. Bilirubin is a yellowish color and is removed from the body through the liver. However, when the bilirubin level is very high, the liver can’t filter it fast enough. That creates the jaundice condition, where the bilirubin can be seen throughout the body in the form of yellow skin and whites of eyes.
Nowadays, infants and others can sometimes be treated at home for jaundice, but back in the 70’s, I was told that my baby would have to stay in the hospital. He would need treatment, called phototherapy, where a fluorescent light is positioned over the naked baby, as he lies in a bassinet. To protect the eyes, gauze was folded and placed over them, and then taped in place. It was heart wrenching to see my newborn baby like that.
There are many reasons that a baby might be jaundiced. Prematurity, infection, a liver condition, or a mismatch of baby and mother blood types, are a few. The yellow color can present a couple of days after the birth and can last for a couple of weeks. In mild cases, treatment might not be necessary; severe cases need phototherapy, which can be done at home in some cases, or in the hospital in other situations. Today, the parent(s) might be allowed to stay at the hospital; back in the 70’s, I was not offered that option. Instead, I went home without my baby, and came back to the hospital every day.
Should you experience having a baby that becomes jaundiced, try to stay calm, and stay put. In today’s incubators, parents can put their arms through special holes – accompanying a tent over the baby – and can interact and hold the infant. Within a few days, the baby’s liver issue will clear up, and you can happily take the newborn home. If you’re already home when the yellow color becomes noticeable, contact your doctor immediately.
Read more about jaundice…