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Jaundice In Newborns: Causes, Symptoms, Risk Factors, Diagnosis And Treatment

Jaundice in newborns is identified by the yellowish tint or colouration of a newborn's skin and the white portion of the eyes. When this kind of a tint is noticed in a neonate, it is generally a sign that there is more than the average amount of bilirubin in the baby's bloodstream.

The condition of having too much bilirubin in the bloodstream is referred to as hyperbilirubinemia.

Causes Of Jaundice In Newborns [1]

Bilirubin is a natural by-product of the body's breaking down of old red blood cells and protein, also called haemoglobin, present within the red blood cells. As part of the normal functioning of the body, this bilirubin is removed from the body in the form of bile and is eliminated through the digestive system.

As the body is constantly breaking down old red blood cells and making new ones, the amount of bilirubin present in the body generally tends to be low. It is when the bilirubin level in the bloodstream goes beyond the average level that a person can be said to be suffering from jaundice.

Newborns generally have high amounts of bilirubin in their bloodstream. This happens because the baby's body is not prepared to handle the bilirubin. A baby's body makes more bilirubin than it can eliminate, thereby leading to the build-up of bilirubin in the bloodstream.

Usually, as the baby's system gradually develops, the body becomes better equipped to successfully eliminate the bilirubin. As a newborn grows older, jaundice tends to go away on its own. Medical attention, however, might be required under certain conditions - if the yellowish colouring seems to increase even after the third day from the birth of the baby, or the yellowish colouring does not appear to be decreasing even after the fifth day from the newborn's birth.

Generally, jaundice appears in a newborn within the first five days of birth. Usually, babies are checked for jaundice within 72 hours of being born. Most babies have mild jaundice that either gets better gradually or goes away on its own within one or two weeks.

Nevertheless, jaundice in newborns must not be taken lightly. While it does go away on its own, it can lead to serious lifelong problems. In rare cases, if the level of bilirubin remains high and is not adequately treated, it can lead to kernicterus . This medical condition occurs when the bilirubin levels gets elevated to a great degree, spreading to the brain tissue and causing brain damage.

Other causes of jaundice in newborns are liver problems, infection, an enzyme deficiency, internal bleeding, bruising at birth or an abnormality in a baby's red blood cells.

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Symptoms Of Jaundice In Newborns

A newborn with jaundice will have yellow skin and white part of the eyes. The yellowish colouration will be visible initially in the face and chest of the baby. This yellowish tint in newborns suffering from jaundice can be seen typically one to five days after being born.

High level of bilirubin in a baby may lead to the following symptoms :

  • Crying loudly in a high-pitched voice.
  • Inactivity
  • Unable to suck well
  • Become more yellow-coloured gradually
  • Be irritable
  • Trying to curve or arch the back

Jaundice in newborns must never be overlooked. Always seek prompt medical attention if you feel that your newborn might be suffering from jaundice.

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Risk Factors Of Jaundice In Newborns

  • Premature babies
  • Babies who are not getting enough breast milk
  • Babies whose blood type don't match with the blood type of their mother [2].
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Diagnosis Of Jaundice In Newborns

  • A physical examination is done by your baby's doctor.
  • Questions might be asked about the individual blood groups that you and your baby have.
  • A blood test is usually done to find out if treatment is required.
  • Other tests might be advised if the cause for elevated bilirubin levels is traced to an underlying health problem [1].
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Treatment Of Jaundice In Newborns

Phototherapy or placing the newborn under a special kind of light is the usual treatment in such cases. As the skin absorbs the special light, bilirubin levels undergo a change and the body is better able to get rid of the same [1].

Do keep in mind that a newborn with jaundice must be treated through special lights in controlled surroundings under medical supervision. Don't try to treat jaundice by placing your newborn near a window or in the sun.

If the jaundice is due to some health issue, the treatment will be given accordingly.

In certain cases of severe jaundice, blood transfusions might be required.

Prevention Of Jaundice In Newborns

The best course of action to help the baby's body better eliminate the bilirubin is to make sure that your baby feeds well. Regardless of whether you are breastfeeding your baby or feeding them through a bottle, stick to a schedule and ensure that you keep them well fed. Feed your baby at regular intervals.

If you are breastfeeding, feed your baby around 8 to 12 times in 24 hours. If you are bottle-feeding, make it about 6 to 10 feedings in 24 hours. Consult with your doctor in case you are not sure if your baby is getting enough nourishment.

The role of the parents can hardly be overestimated when a newborn has jaundice. It is up to the parents to keep monitoring their baby's skin to ensure that the natural colouration of the skin is being restored. Any follow-up testing recommended by the doctor has to be looked into and not ignored. If your baby has turned more than 3 days old and the yellowish tint still persists, do call your doctor right away.

To Conclude...

While the birth of a child can be quite an emotional roller-coaster ride for parents, more so for first time parents, it gets even tougher when newborns face medical challenges.

Neonatal jaundice is very common in newborns across the world. While jaundice in newborns does tend to go away on its own in some days, treatment might be necessary in certain cases.

Common FAQs

Is jaundice dangerous for newborn babies?

For most babies, jaundice isn't harmful and it goes away within one to two weeks.

Do babies with jaundice sleep more?

If the baby is suffering from severe jaundice, they might feel very sleepy and it will be very difficult for the mother to feed the baby.

How do I know if my baby's jaundice is getting worse?

Observe your baby's skin twice a day and also check your baby's eyes daily to see if it has turned yellow.

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