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Newborn jaundice is caused by high bilirubin levels, giving the skin and the white of the eyes a yellow color.
Bilirubin is a byproduct of red blood cells that pass through the liver (where it is chemically changed) and is excreted in the stool.
About 50-60% of full term babies and nearly 80% of premature babies are affected with newborn jaundice.
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Types of Jaundice
Physiological (normal) newborn jaundice. This type of jaundice is the most common type and is due to an underdeveloped liver. Bilirubin levels rise because the process of going through the liver is slowed down. It normally appears on the second or third day of life and can take 7-10 days to disappear.
Breastfeeding jaundice. This type of jaundice occurs because the newborn is not getting enough breast milk. Babies that don't feed well will have fewer stools, preventing bilirubin from leaving the body and allowing it to be reabsorbed back into the bloodstream.
There are other reasons for newborn jaundice and some can cause dangerously high levels of bilirubin. If any of the following occur, notify your health care provider immediately:
- jaundice appears during the first 24 hours of life
- the color spreads and becomes more intense
- your baby has a fever
- your baby's urine is brown in color
- your baby looks or acts sick.
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Care of Newborn with Jaundice
Monitor your baby's skin and eyes for signs of jaundice. The skin appears yellow at the head first and works its way down. Observe skin color in daylight or in a room that is well-lit. Blanch your baby's skin by gently pressing your finger against it and letting go. This will clear away capillary coloration for a quick moment, making it easier to notice any discoloration.
Breastfeed. Breast milk is nature's perfect food for newborns. A certified lactation nurse can show you how to wake a sleepy baby, use correct positioning, and how to increase milk supply among other valuable information. Supplementing with formula should not be needed when treating jaundice. Find local support through La Leche League International.
Place your baby next to a window where mild sunlight is shining through. Sunlight is known to help newborn jaundice by breaking down bilirubin. To prevent your baby from getting cold or having the sun burn his or her skin:
- stay with your baby at all times to monitor closely
- do twice a day, 10 minutes each time (5 minutes on your baby's front and 5 minutes on his or her back)
- do during the early morning and late evening hours to avoid harsh sunlight.
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Care of Newborn with Jaundice and High Bilirubin Levels
If bilirubin levels rise to an unsafe number, phototherapy may be necessary. A special light, similar to sunlight, is used to break down bilirubin. Your baby will either be placed under bili lights, covered with a bili-blanket, or both. If your baby needs this treatment, ask your health care provider if it can be done at home. Feed frequently and continue breastfeeding.
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