The short excerpt above would sound familiar to those who already have kids of their own, but first-time parents would be scared out of their wits! To those who don’t already know, this is a condition known as neonatal jaundice. The word jaundice, comes from the French word ‘Jaune’, which describes the word, yellow, so technically, yellow baby. There are many causes of jaundice, but the most common cause is ‘physiological’, meaning it’s a normal thing that most babies have. Physiological jaundice commonly occurs on the 2nd day of life.
Understanding physiological neonatal jaundice
1) Jaundice is caused by a buildup of bilirubin, which is a side product of the breakdown of red blood cells.
2) Bilirubin is processed by the liver, breaking it down into other compounds which would ultimately give urine and stools its colours.
3) Babies’ red blood cells breakdown faster than an adults, hence there is increased bilirubin in the bloodstream.
4) Newborns are normally born with immature livers, which need a few days of life to mature. The increased bilirubin in the bloodstream is not processed adequately, hence leading to neonatal jaundice.
Fret not, neonatal jaundice isn’t dangerous as long as your child gets the appropriate treatment promptly. Doing so requires you as a parent to identify the condition quickly. Fortunately, it is pretty simple and does not require a medical degree. A quick look at your child’s eyes is all it takes; the whites of the eyes would have a tinge of yellow. Treatment then involves having your baby underneath an overhead fluorescent light and regular monitoring of bilirubin levels. Most babies would recover within a few days and be sent home, pink and happy.
So why the fuss over such a seemingly minor condition?
Untreated neonatal jaundice could lead to dangerously high levels of bilirubin in the body, crossing into the brain and causing permanent brain damage. This has been termed as kernicterus, and there is currently no cure. Parents take note!
Besides physiological jaundice, babies can also have more severe forms of jaundice, which could be due to, among others:
- Abnormal red blood cells
- Blood type incompatibility between mum and baby
- Absence of bodily enzymes
How to differentiate physiological jaundice from jaundice due to other causes?
- Jaundice at birth, before 2nd day of life.
- Jaundice lasting for more than 2 weeks of life.
- Abnormally yellowish baby.
- Rhesus negative mother.
However, regardless of the type of jaundice that your baby suffers from, it is imperative to get proper medical advice from the appropriate medical authority, where treatment of the jaundice itself is a simple procedure called photo-therapy. This involves leaving your baby underneath a lamp for most of the time of the day.
Breastfeed your baby as you normally do, as this helps speed up the recovery.
To sum it up, jaundice in a newborn baby is very common. There is nothing to worry about it, as long as you seek for proper help. Before long, your baby will be pink and healthy!
Have questions? Feel free to ask in the comments section below.
by Melvin Lee
A fresh medical graduate balancing life between nerding and being a gym rat. He is passionate about life itself, and believes in living to his fullest in everything he does. His proudest flaw? Coffee addiction. View all articles by Melvin Lee.