While welcoming a newborn into the world is an exciting time, parents also need to be concerned about their child’s health during this period. Jaundice is a common ailment that many neonates experience. This article presents a thorough analysis of newborn jaundice, including its causes, symptoms, treatment options, and preventive measures.
What Is Newborn Jaundice?
Newborn jaundice refers to the yellowing of a baby’s skin and whites of the eyes within the first week after birth.
It occurs when there is a buildup of bilirubin, a yellow pigment produced during the normal breakdown of red blood cells.
Mild jaundice is common in newborns but more severe jaundice can be dangerous if untreated.
Causes Of Newborn Jaundice
▪️ Physiological jaundice
The most common cause occurs in up to 60% of newborns. Results from the normal breakdown of fetal red blood cells after birth. Tends to peak at 3-5 days old.
▪️ Breastfeeding jaundice
Occurs around days 4-7. Can result from dehydration or inadequate milk intake leading to a buildup of bilirubin. Frequent nursing helps.
▪️ Blood type incompatibility
If the mother and baby have different blood types (Rh or ABO incompatibility), the mother’s antibodies can destroy the baby’s red blood cells causing excess bilirubin.
Disrupts bilirubin metabolism. Maternal infections like chorioamnionitis or neonatal sepsis increase risk.
▪️ Hemolytic disease
Inherited defects like G6PD deficiency or spherocytosis lead to rapid red blood cell breakdown and elevated bilirubin levels.
▪️ Liver disease
Impaired liver function from neonatal hepatitis, biliary atresia, or metabolic disorder reduces bilirubin excretion.
▪️ Breast milk jaundice
Certain substances in breast milk can inhibit bilirubin metabolization in some infants. Tends to be mild.
C▪️ rigler-Najjar syndrome
A very rare genetic disorder causing severe jaundice from missing bilirubin-metabolizing enzyme.
The most dangerous causes involve hemolytic diseases and severe liver dysfunction. But physiological jaundice is overwhelmingly the most common and benign cause of newborn jaundice.
Identifying the exact cause guides appropriate treatment.
Symptoms Of Newborn Jaundice
▪️ Yellowing of the skin
Starts as a yellowish tinge on the head, face, and chest, gradually spreading downwards to the abdomen, arms, and legs as bilirubin levels increase.
▪️ Yellowing of the whites of the eyes
The sclerae will turn yellow as jaundice progresses.
Babies become very tired, inactive, and difficult to wake due to high bilirubin causing brain cell damage.
▪️ Poor feeding
Loss of appetite, disinterest in nursing, not finishing bottles. Dehydration worsens jaundice.
Babies may be inconsolably fussy, crying in a high-pitched tone.
▪️ Abnormal tone
Limp muscles curled up posture due to a lack of muscle control.
Body temperature may be lower than normal due to lethargy.
▪️ Vomiting or diarrhea
This can be a sign of an infection contributing to jaundice.
May occur with very severe untreated jaundice and kernicterus.
The visible yellowing of the skin and sclera along with unusual sleepiness are classic signs. Changes in behavior, temperature, and muscle control warrant prompt medical attention.
Treatment Of Newborn Jaundice
- Light therapy – Uses blue light to help break down bilirubin.
- Fluid supplementation – Encourages hydration and urination to flush out bilirubin.
- Blood transfusion – Replaces incompatible blood types.
- Medications – Help improve bilirubin metabolism.
- Liver transplant – For cases of liver failure.
Prevention Of Newborn Jaundice
- Breastfeed frequently – Prevents dehydration and encourages bowel movements.
- Monitor intake and weight – Ensures adequate feeding.
- Screen for blood type issues – Identify ABO and Rh incompatibility.
- Avoid indirect light – Excessive sunlight converts bilirubin into toxic substances.
- Routine screening – Track bilirubin levels to catch problems early.
When To See A Doctor For Newborn Jaundice?
Jaundice appearing in the first 24 hours after birth – This requires evaluation as it may indicate an underlying condition. Physiological jaundice usually appears after 24 hours.
Prompt medical assessment for jaundice is vital to prevent complications like kernicterus brain damage.
Newborns with no risk factors can often be managed at home initially but should be monitored closely for worsening. When in doubt, contacting the pediatrician is recommended.
FAQs about newborn jaundice
Physiological jaundice usually resolves by 2 weeks but can last 3-4 weeks. Prolonged jaundice needs evaluation.
Intensive phototherapy, blood exchange transfusion, medications, IV fluids, and other interventions depending on the cause.
Rarely, very high bilirubin levels can trigger kernicterus leading to cerebral palsy, hearing loss, and other neurological conditions.
While mild newborn jaundice is common and benign, more severe hyperbilirubinemia can become dangerous without prompt treatment.
Close monitoring, screening tests, and early medical support when required can prevent complications. Most cases resolve on their own within a few weeks with no lasting effects