As a new parent you may have heard about ‘jaundice’ in your antenatal classes, you may have heard other parents or family members speak about it, or it may be something entirely new. Either way, hearing about jaundice can often be alarming. The best antidote to this fear is information – information about what to look out for and where to turn, and the reassurance that this is extremely common and usually resolves without treatment in 10 to 14 days after birth.
Neonatal jaundice is yellowing of the skin and whites of your babies’ eyes (sclera) caused by high levels of bilirubin – a yellowish substance found in red blood cells, a waste product excreted by the liver. This substance is also responsible for brown/yellow poop and the yellow colour in a bruise. When babies are born they will have lots of extra red blood cells owing to the constant blood supply from the placenta (also often from delayed chord clamping) this is perfectly normal. This in turn means lots of extra bilirubin.
Whilst unlikely to cause any issues for your baby, your midwife can check the levels by performing a simple, non-invasive test either in hospital or at home. This is then compared against a chart showing if baby needs any additional treatment. Importantly, if your baby shows symptoms, is less than 24 hours old and was born premature (before 37 weeks) it is advisable to seek a blood test.
Additional risk factors include: bruising at birth (after an assisted delivery with forceps or ventouse (suction cup)); a mismatch of the mothers’ blood group and the baby’s blood group (rhesus incompatibility); siblings previously treated for jaundice; and exclusively breastfed babies (sometimes described as breastmilk jaundice).
Health professionals would not routinely advise treatment for physiological (normal) jaundice. However, they may recommend ‘sunlight therapy’; which is just as it sounds: keeping your baby in natural light. Just make sure that it is not too cold or hot by any windows. Regular feeding will also help your baby excrete the excess bilirubin through their poop, so, keep their feeding pattern to no longer than 4 hours between each feed.