Congratulations! You're a new parent and you've settling into life at home with a newborn. Your new baby is undoubtedly the most beautiful, perfect creature you've ever seen and now that you've been home for a few days, you may feel like you are starting to get the hang of caring for this newborn. You can change diapers like a champ, feeding is going well and you may even have successfully given your little one his/her first bath. But just as you feel you've got it all under control, your baby may throw you a curveball, as children are wont to do. It's not uncommon, shortly after birth, for babies to show signs of jaundice.
What is jaundice?
On the surface, jaundice exhibits as a yellowish tint to the skin and whites of the eyes. That's how you will notice it. It means that there is a buildup in your baby's system of a yellow pigment called bilirubin. Bilirubin is a byproduct of red blood cells. It's perfectly normal. However, bilirubin is usually processed by the liver and your baby's liver is still developing. Because of this, the bilirubin remains in the body and turns your baby a yellowish color.
If you aren't sure if your baby is jaundiced, try gently pressing your baby's nose or forehead. If the skin you pressed looks yellow, you're seeing jaundice
Who gets jaundice?
Jaundice is not at all uncommon. In fact, as many as 60% of full term babies and 80% of premature babies have it. It can also be higher in infants who have siblings who experienced jaundice as newborns and babies who aren't eating enough. Also at a higher risk for jaundice are breast fed babies, especially if they aren't latching or feeding well.
What should you do?
If you notice jaundice, the first step is to remain calm. Remember that this is very normal for babies and is likely not anything to worry about. Give your doctor a call. Chances are, your baby is already scheduled for a check-up and one of the things the doctor will look for is jaundice. But if you aren't already heading to the doctor soon, it's best to make an appointment.
What will the doctor do?
Most jaundice will fade on its own as the baby's liver matures, usually within a week. The doctor may also monitor bilirubin levels through blood tests. If the numbers start to decline, your baby's jaundice is going away. But if those numbers go up, your baby becomes more yellow, exhibits poor feeding tendencies or becomes sleepier in general, your doctor may recommend light therapy, also known as phototherapy. This just means that your baby will spend some time under special fluorescent lights that will help break up the bilirubin so it can be excreted out of the body in baby's urine and bowel movements.
Extreme cases of jaundice are rare, but if phototherapy doesn't work, something called an exchange transfusion may be needed. This transfusion slowly replaces the baby's blood with donor blood to bring down the bilirubin levels.
Jaundice is a very normal condition in newborns and most babies need little to no treatment at all. Your little one will most likely be just fine. Just consider it the first of many times your baby will keep you on your toes.