Newborn Jaundice

You may have had a wonderful pregnancy and delivery. Your baby was born normally and healthy, and you were relieved because you know from reading the pregnancy books and websites there are so many things that can go wrong. But after a few hours, your baby turned yellow. The doctor says that jaundice is normal in newborns –just to keep an eye on it. What, exactly, does jaundice mean for your newborn, and could it become dangerous at any point? And what, exactly, is jaundice?

Is Newborn Jaundice Normal?

Doctors say that it’s normal for babies to have jaundice. Jaundice is caused from an increased level of bilirubin in the blood right after birth, causing the skin to turn a bit yellow. During pregnancy, the placenta takes the bilirubin from the blood naturally, but after birth, the baby’s liver takes over and starts processing that bilirubin. Sometimes the infant’s liver doesn’t work fast enough to keep up, causing that level of bilirubin to climb until the liver can catch up. Because of this, it’s natural for babies to have an increased level until the liver starts working normally. It’s only when the bilirubin has been high for too long does jaundice become a problem.

What is a Normal Amount of Time for the Baby to be Jaundiced?

Newborn jaundice usually develops for a child that is 2-4 days old and may last for as long as two weeks, decreasing gradually over that time. It’s important to keep an eye on this because if the level of bilirubin is increasing instead of decreasing, the infant may have hyperbilirubemia, a serious condition that leads to Kernicterus –a condition that may cause more serious damage.

What is Kernicterus?

Kernicterus is when the levels of bilirubin climb so much in the blood that it starts pooling in the brain, thus causing a brain injury. Some consequences of Kernicterus can be slight, but others can be as serious as intellectual disability, cerebral palsy, loss of hearing or sight, or even death. Alert your doctor to the baby’s jaundice within the first 24 hours and the doctor will be able to test the baby to see if your baby has normal newborn jaundice, or if the baby has a number of special circumstances that could lead to Kernicterus.

What Special Circumstances Could Lead to Abnormal Jaundice?

Some causes of jaundice have less to do with the liver overcompensating for its new job and have more to do with your infant’s special circumstances. Special circumstances that your child may have include: abnormal blood cell shapes, blood type mismatch between the mother and the baby, bleeding under the scalp due to a difficult delivery, higher levels of red blood cells (common in twins and under-sized babies), infection, and enzyme deficiencies. Your child may even have normal newborn jaundice, but the jaundice may get worse if the child is struggling from a number of other special circumstances such as: infection or taking medications due to related infection, congenital diseases, hypoxia, or other genetic or inherited disorders.

What is the Treatment for Newborn Jaundice?

The first thing that you must do is to consult your doctor related to the jaundice. Most newborn jaundice will go away on its own without treatment in 1-2 weeks, decreasing gradually on its own. You may have to monitor the jaundice through a number of seemingly extreme demands such as increasing how often you’re feeding the baby, a nurse may have to come home with the child to monitor his or her progress, and you may be expected to count the number of wet or dirty diapers. When it comes to treatment, there isn’t a lot that a doctor can do except to replace hyperbilirubemic blood with normal-celled blood, so your child may be required to have a blood transfusion.

What is the Prognosis for Jaundice?

If your newborn’s jaundice has escalated to Kernicterus, there are a number of severe long-term consequences ranging from learning disabilities and ADHD to more severe intellectual disabilities, cerebral palsy, or death. However, most normal newborn jaundice goes away at a gradual rate, leaving no lifetime long term effects on the child.