Jaundice is a frequent medical condition in the newborn babies. It features with yellow discoloration of the skin and visible mucous membranes such as whites of the eyes. Jaundice in babies occurs due to increased levels of bilirubin in blood. Excess of bilirubin which is not eliminated by stool accumulates in the skin and mucous membranes and this gives yellow discoloration of these areas. Bilirubin is a product of red blood cell disintegration. It is processed by the liver and finally eliminated from the body in the stool. In neonatal jaundice there is too much bilirubin and baby's liver simply cannot process all of it.
Jaundice in newborn babies typically occurs within first 3 to 5 days of their lives. This medical condition affects more than 25% of all full-term babies. Jaundice is more frequent in breastfed babies than those who are fed on formula. This can be explained by the presence of specific hormone in mother's milk which interferes in normal processing of bilirubin. Jaundice in newborn babies may be also a consequence of infrequent passage of the stool where some of the bilirubin gets reabsorbed in the intestine and leads to increase of bilirubin in blood.
Diagnosing Jaundice in Newborns
The diagnosis of jaundice can be set thanks to a simple blood test. Normal level of bilirubin during the first few weeks of baby's life is less than 12 milligrams per deciliter of blood. If the level of bilirubin is higher that defined the jaundice has definitely occurred.
Some babies are at higher risk of developing jaundice. This particularly refers to premature babies, babies whose blood is incompatible with mothers, babies whose brothers and sisters also suffered from jaundice after birth and babies who have collection of blood under the scalp. It is also likely that the baby will develop jaundice if his/ her mother is older than 25.
Treatment for Jaundice in Newborns
Jaundice in newborns may be severe and the most significant problem is related to possibility of brain damage due to increased levels of bilirubin.
The treatment for jaundice in newborns includes phototherapy. It reduces the level of bilirubin. The baby is placed in an incubator under fluorescent lamps. The light of these lamps converts bilirubin into its water-soluble form and the final product of this conversion is excreted in urine. The treatment lasts approximately 2 or 3 days. Baby is removed when fed and when diapers are changed. Baby's eyes must be covered with protective eye wear during exposure to the light and it is rather important to be given plenty of fluids such as breast milk, formula or intravenous fluids.