When a baby is born, his or her liver is still developing the ability to break down red blood cells. Red blood cells are broken down by the liver to create new substances for the body, such as bile and to create waste to be excreted (yum).
Billirubin is a biproduct of red blood cells and it is the abundance of billirubin in most newborns that can cause a yellow appearance - most commonly noted in the skin and in the whites of the baby's eyes. All newborns have jaundice in some digree!
Most hospitals will test for jaundice before your baby is cleared to go home. In most cases, the level of billirubin in newborns is low enough for the newborn to be able to go home - even with a touch of jaundice.
In most cases, the baby will not show signs of jaundice until the second or fifth day; however, it usually clears on its own by the second week.
It is very rare for jaundice to be serious enough for the baby to go to the hospital, but it does happen!
What to Expect
In the first few weeks of life, your baby will produce bowel movements that are yellow in colour and this is normal. This is your baby's body flushing its system of excess amounts of billirubin.
A jaundice baby will be very sleepy and lathargic, but within reason [see below for warning signs]. At times, you will find it hard to feed the baby as he or she will want to doze off! Tickle their feet, wiggle their hands gently, tickle under their chin -- try different ways to keep your baby alert enough to eat!
With a jaundiced baby, you should nurse/breastfeed or give them bottles often to help their system flush out the billirubin.
If you are breastfeeding, you do NOT need to top off each feeding with formula. The more you breastfeed, the more milk you will produce, the faster Jaundice will be flushed out. Introducing formula will reduce the amount of milk you produce and can cause nipple confusion, further damaging your breastfeeding relationship.
Warning Signs of Jaundice (When to Worry)
While jaundice is normal, there are times when it can become severe enough to warrant a trip to your doctor or to the hospital. As always, if you are at all concerned, contact your doctor!
Some sings and symptoms that should not be ignored...
- Fever of 38°+ C or 100°+ F
- Baby is listless or rarely wakes
- Baby does not eat enough to produce multiple wet diapers each day
- Baby is seen as yellow, but does not produce many bowel movements (aim for one movement for every other feeding)
- Jaundice is still present after two weeks
- Babys skin is bright yellow
- Baby has yellow hands or yellow feet
- Baby has yellow skin, but their bowel movements are consistently not yellow
This is Just a Guide
Always, always check with your doctor about your baby's health. This article is just meant as an informative article which is not to replace your doctor.