Infant jaundice is a yellow discoloration in a newborn baby's skin and eyes. Infant jaundice occurs because the baby's blood contains an excess of bilirubin (bil-ih-ROO-bin), a yellow-colored pigment of red blood cells.
Infant jaundice is a common condition, particularly in babies born before 38 weeks gestation (preterm babies) and breast-fed babies. Infant jaundice usually occurs because a baby's liver isn't mature enough to get rid of bilirubin in the bloodstream. In some cases, an underlying disease may cause jaundice.
Treatment of infant jaundice often isn't necessary, and most cases that need treatment respond well to noninvasive therapy. Although complications are rare, severe infant jaundice or poorly treated jaundice can cause brain damage.
Signs of infant jaundice usually appear between the second and fourth day after birth and include:
You'll usually notice jaundice first in your baby's face. If the condition progresses, you may notice the yellow color in his or her eyes, chest, abdomen, arms and legs.
The best way to check for infant jaundice is to press your finger gently on your baby's forehead or nose. If the skin looks yellow where you pressed, it's likely your baby has jaundice. If your baby doesn't have jaundice, the skin color should simply look slightly lighter than its normal color for a moment.
It's best to examine your baby in good lighting conditions, preferably in natural daylight.
When to see a doctor
Your baby should be checked for jaundice when he or she is between three and seven days old, when bilirubin levels usually peak. Therefore, if your baby is discharged earlier than 72 hours following birth, you should have a follow-up appointment to check for jaundice within two days of discharge.
The following signs or symptoms may indicate severe jaundice or complications from jaundice. Call your doctor if:
The main cause of jaundice is:
Major risk factors for jaundice, particularly severe jaundice that can cause complications, include:
Severe jaundice, if left untreated, can cause serious complications.
Acute bilirubin encephalopathy
The following signs may indicate acute bilirubin encephalopathy in a baby with jaundice:
Preparing for your appointment
Bilirubin levels in the blood tend to peak when your baby is between three and seven days old. Therefore, it's important for your doctor to check your baby for jaundice during that time span.
When your baby is discharged from the hospital, your doctor or nurse will check to see whether your baby has jaundice. If your baby does have jaundice, your doctor will judge the likelihood of the jaundice being severe based on a number of factors:
When you arrive for your follow-up appointment, be prepared to answer the following questions that your doctor is likely to ask.
You may also prepare questions to ask your doctor at your follow-up appointment, including:
Don't hesitate to ask your doctor additional questions if you don't understand something during the appointment.
Tests and diagnosis
Your doctor will likely diagnose infant jaundice on the basis of your baby's appearance. However, it's not possible to judge the severity of jaundice based on appearance alone. Your doctor will need to measure the level of bilirubin in your baby's blood. The level of bilirubin (severity of jaundice) will determine the course of treatment.
Tests to determine jaundice include:
Your doctor may order additional blood tests or urine tests if there's evidence that your baby's jaundice is caused by an underlying disorder that needs to be treated.
Treatments and drugs
Mild infant jaundice often disappears on its own within two or three weeks. If your baby has moderate or severe jaundice, he or she may need to stay longer in the newborn nursery or be readmitted to the hospital.
Treatments to lower the level of bilirubin in your baby's blood may include:
Lifestyle and home remedies
When infant jaundice isn't severe, your doctor may recommend changes in feeding habits that can lower levels of bilirubin. Talk to your doctor if you have any questions or concerns about how much or how often your baby is feeding or if you're having trouble breast-feeding. The following steps may lessen jaundice:
The best prevention of infant jaundice is adequate feeding. Breast-fed infants should have eight to 12 feedings a day for the first several days of life. Formula-fed infants usually should have 1 to 2 ounces (about 30 to 60 milliliters) of formula every two to three hours for the first week.
Last Updated: 2011-04-14
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