Baby Health: Jaundice in Newborns
So what's bilirubin? It's a substance that is formed when red blood cells break down. This occurs as part of the natural life cycle of the red blood cell. Bilirubin is normally removed from the bloodstream when it passes through the liver and is excreted as bile in the intestines. Jaundice can occur if the infant's body cannot process bilirubin as fast as it's made. Reasons that bilirubin may not be eliminated are:
- The baby's liver is not yet developed enough to keep up with production.
- More bilirubin is being produced than would be expected.
- Too much bilirubin is reabsorbed by the intestines before it is passed as a bowel movement.
Causes of Jaundice
- Physiological jaundice. This type of jaundice can be found in half of all newborn babies, and is the result of liver immaturity.
- Breast milk jaundice. Some breastfed infants develop jaundice as a result of substances produced in their mother's breast milk.
- Incompatibility jaundice. This type of jaundice is caused by blood type incompatibility between the baby and the mother—they have different blood types—and the mother produces antibodies that destroy the newborns red blood cells. The resulting high levels of bilirubin in the infant's blood stream overwhelm his liver.
- Trauma during childbirth can cause bruising and the destruction of the newborn's red blood cells.
Test your baby for jaundice by pressing gently on the skin of your baby's nose or forehead. When you release, check to see if the skin is white or yellow. A yellowish tint to the skin should be reported to your child's doctor and may require treatment.
Treatment Your child's doctor can determine the severity of the jaundice with a simple blood test. Mild cases of jaundice are usually left to clear up on their own; more severe cases of jaundice can be treated with phototherapy. Phototherapy is treatment with a special light that your baby is placed under to help his body convert the bilirubin and eliminate it from his body. Extreme cases of jaundice sometimes require blood transfusions to remove the bilirubin.