When is Jaundice a Concern for Newborns?

Newborns are prone to developing jaundice, a yellowing of the skin and eyes caused by an excess of a pigment called bilirubin. A mild case of jaundice is common in newborns, but if left untreated, it can lead to serious health complications. Learn how to spot the signs and symptoms of jaundice so you can take your newborn for treatment if needed.

What is Jaundice?

Jaundice is a yellowing of the skin and eyes caused by an excess of bilirubin, which is a pigment created during the breakdown of red blood cells. Normally, bilirubin leaves the body through urine and feces, but newborns often have immature livers that struggle to process it quickly enough. This can cause a buildup that results in jaundice.

How Common is Jaundice in Newborns?

Jaundice is very common in newborns, with an estimated 60% of full-term babies and 80% of premature babies developing jaundice soon after birth, although the severity varies. The majority of these will have mild cases that don't require any intervention, but some cases can become more severe and require medical attention. If jaundice persists beyond 2 weeks it may be a sign that there is an underlying issue that needs to be addressed.

Recognizing the Signs and Symptoms of Jaundice in Newborns.

Common signs and symptoms parents should look out for in their newborns when it comes to jaundice are yellowish discoloration of the skin, dark urine and pale stools. The discoloration typically begins on the face and then moves to the chest, abdomen and limbs. It’s important for parents to take notice of changes in their baby’s skin color after birth so they can get medical attention if needed.

Diagnosis and Treatment of Jaundice in Newborns.

Medical professionals use blood tests to help diagnose jaundice in newborns, as well as to determine the level of bilirubin and assess the risk of complications. Once a diagnosis has been established, treatment typically involves careful monitoring for jaundice for at least 7 days after birth or longer in certain cases. If a baby’s levels are high but not dangerous, then no further treatment may be needed. If levels become dangerous, light therapy, also known as phototherapy, may be used to lower bilirubin in the baby’s system.

Follow-Up Care After Treatment for Jaundice in Newborns.

After treatment for jaundice, there’s a need to monitor the baby’s bilirubin levels even after leaving the hospital. Parents should schedule follow-up care with their pediatrician and take the baby for any recommended tests. Regular checkups can help identify potential complications from jaundice that could require further medical attention. It’s important to pay close attention to your baby's feeding habits and overall health during this time. Any changes in sleep patterns or signs of pain or discomfort should be reported immediately to your doctor.

Resources available to read

Newborn jaundice - NHS (www.nhs.uk)

Newborn jaundice: MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia

Newborn Jaundice: Causes, Symptoms, Treatment, and Prevention (healthline.com)

New guidelines on newborn jaundice: What parents need to know - Harvard Health

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