For a mother, the most terrifying experience in the universe is to have a doctor tell you there’s something wrong with your child. Personally, my heart almost stopped when our pediatrician announced that my newborn son was suffering from jaundice. Only vaguely familiar with the term, I was suddenly desperate to know everything about jaundice.
What is jaundice?
According to Web MD, jaundice is a medical condition caused by too much of a chemical called bilirubin in the bloodstream. It can strike at any age, but is especially common in newborns.
Since bilirubin is processed by the liver, jaundice can be a sign of liver problems in older children and adults. But in newborns, it is often the result of the baby’s slower liver function and the extra red blood cells that begin to break down soon after birth. That’s why newborn jaundice is normally most pronounced when babies are three to five days old, explains Web MD.
How is jaundice diagnosed?
The first sign of jaundice is a yellow tinge to the eyes and skin. A simple blood test can confirm the diagnosis. Because the problem pops up regularly in newborns, hospital often routinely test for jaundice in their youngest patients.
Is newborn jaundice dangerous?
While most cases of newborn jaundice are mild, jaundice shouldn’t be ignored. Extremely high level of bilirubin can cause major problems. Medline Plus states that cerebral palsy, deafness and including a neurological condition that damages the brain called kenicterus have been linked to severe jaundice. Thankfully, doctors generally manage to catch jaundice early enough to prevent major issues.
How is newborn jaundice treated?
Most cases of newborn jaundice won’t require treatment. Mothers are advised to feed on demand to help their infants digestive systems dispose of the extra bilirubin in their stool.
But if the bilirubin levels are too high or rising quickly, doctors may break out blue lights called bili lights for phototherapy that breaks down bilirubin in the skin. Babies lay under the light in just their diapers and special eye protectors.
Sometimes infants may be given blood transfusions to help clear jaundice. But this is typically reserved for only the most severe cases.
Fortunately, we were lucky. My son spent some time under the blue bili lights, prompting my anxious husband to crack nervous jokes about Kmart’s blue light specials. Our pediatrician recommended we encourage him to eat as much as possible, advice my growing boy was only too happy to take advantage of. In fact, his jaundice responded so well to treatment that we were actually able to leave the hospital a day ahead of schedule.
While my family came through our brush with jaundice without a hitch, it did offer a valuable reminder. When it comes to health, particularly with infants, it’s always best to catch problems early and deal with them before they turn into bigger issues. If you have any concerns about your child’s health, whether it’s jaundice or something totally different, please talk with your pediatrician.