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As Prescribed Blog



As Prescribed Blog

Newborns and Jaundice: Fear not!

Beverly Haferman RN, LC September 12, 2012 0 Comments Family Medicine

Having a new baby is a wonderful, but scary, journey. There can be many bumps in the road and, when you’re a new Mom, they can feel overwhelming. As a Fort HealthCare patient, we work to minimize this by monitoring your baby closely.

One of the things our staff watch for is jaundice. Often noticed as the yellowing of your infant’s skin, this occurs when there is a build-up of the pigment called bilirubin [Pronounced BILLY-rue-bin] in your infant’s blood. Most babies have jaundice to some extent and this causes no problem, but if the level rises too high it can damage the brain. Because of this, your pediatrician or nurse will check your infant’s bilirubin level 24 hours after birth or if any yellowing is noted. Don’t worry!  We will never let it rise to an unhealthy level, and will treat jaundice at fairly low levels to prevent medical

[caption id="attachment_295" align="alignleft" width="251" caption="Newborn enjoying her pain-free therapy for jaundice."]Newborn in her portable Bili Bed[/caption]

Bilirubin is a pigment in hemoglobin, the oxygen carrying part of red blood cells. Before your baby is born, he or she has extra fetal hemoglobin to grab as much oxygen as it can. However, once your baby is delivered and can breathe air, all of these fetal red blood cells are not needed and your baby starts to break them down. Baby’s liver will help rid the
body of this excess by mixing it with bile and depositing it in the intestines to be expelled through bowel movements. In some cases though, the baby is overwhelmed with bilirubin.

[caption id="attachment_296" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="Sleeping comfortably in her portable Bili Bed, this baby is ready to head home."]Sleeping comfortably in a portable Bili Bed[/caption]

Some of the causes of these higher levels are:

Prematurity: Babies born before 40 weeks may have immature livers that are unable to efficiently bind the hemoglobin for removal.

Difficult deliveries:  If your baby’s head is bruised by forceps or a vacuum-assisted delivery, there will be more red blood cells for the liver to get rid of.

Incompatible blood types or factors. This can set off an antigen-antibody reaction and the increased break down of red blood cells.

Difficulty getting enough food, due to prematurity, illness or difficulty with breastfeeding. Infants in this category may have delayed or decreased stooling. Remember: Bilirubin is deposited in the intestines and your baby removes it through bowel movements.

[caption id="attachment_297" align="alignleft" width="225" caption="Newborn having photo therapy in the Fort HealthCare Great Expectations Birthing Center."]Newborn having photo therapy in the hospital[/caption]

So how do we treat this? 

  • Photo therapy. This is a fancy was of saying "light therapy.”  By exposing your baby to a specific frequency of light waves, we can break the bilirubin molecule down small enough, that it can pass through the kidneys. Some babies will be sent home with a portable Bili Bed for treatment, others may need to be in the hospital for a short time.
  • Increasing your baby’s oral intake (a.k.a. feedings.)  It is important you feed your infant 8-12 times a day. Breast milk will make your infant stool more often, thereby removing the bilirubin more rapidly.

Having a baby with jaundice can be frustrating. You will have to return for frequent weight and bilirubin checks. If your baby needs treatment, he or she will have to stay on a “Bili bed” and cannot be cuddled like you want, but remember, this is short term and we will help you every step of the way.

To learn more about lactation or how the Fort HealthCare Great Expectations Birthing Center helps deliver happy, healthy babies, visit FortHealthCare.com/Baby.