Up to 60-70% of babies are diagnosed with neonatal jaundice. Parents often worry when it comes to jaundice in babies. Here are answers to some of the most commonly asked questions on jaundice by our expert doctors.
What causes jaundice in new-borns?
Jaundice in babies occurs due to the build-up of a yellow pigment, called bilirubin, in their body. When the baby is still in the womb, the mother’s placenta helps in eliminating the pigment from the baby’s body. Babies require haemoglobin in the womb to draw oxygen from the mother’s blood.
After birth, however, this extra haemoglobin in their blood is broken down into bilirubin and eliminated from the body via the liver. The infant’s liver, however, is still immature after birth and is often unable to handle and eliminate the bilirubin on its own. This is the reason many new-borns develop jaundice after birth.
In most cases, the accumulation of the yellow pigment peaks around the 3rd or 4th day after birth and subsequently starts reducing. Key reasons for prolonged jaundice are:
1. Inadequate Feeding
If the baby is underfed or not fed properly, he or she may get dehydrated. This will cause the yellow pigment (bilirubin) to build up in the body.
2. Blood Group Incompatibilities
The jaundice is more likely to be severe in case the baby and the mother have incompatible blood types (babies born to mothers with O blood group or Rh-negative blood group are at higher risk).
3. Other Rare Conditions
Certain other rare conditions such as G6DP (glucose 6 phosphate dehydrogenase) deficiency could also be the reason for increased jaundice in babies.
What are the symptoms of jaundice in baby?
Some symptoms of jaundice in babies include:
- Yellow-tinged skin, especially around the face and scalp
- A yellow tinge to the white parts of the infant’s eyes
- Darker, yellow urine
- Pale or light-coloured stools
- Feeding difficulties
Is jaundice harmful for my baby?
Jaundice in babies is not fatal, but severe jaundice can lead to potential future complications such as cerebral palsy, hearing loss etc. Jaundice in babies can be harmful if the levels rise to a high value without supervision or proper treatment. Usually, this occurs when serum bilirubin is more than 20-25 mg/dl.
Parents should keep in mind if timely action is taken then jaundice is usually not a cause of worry. You are advised to consult an expert for advice early.
Treatment of Jaundice in Babies
If the bilirubin level is more than the upper tolerance limit for the baby then phototherapy is recommended
What is Phototherapy?
Phototherapy, or light therapy, is a treatment option for babies suffering from severe jaundice wherein a process called photo-oxidation and photo-isomerisation lowers the bilirubin levels in baby’s body. The baby will be placed under a halogen or fluorescent lamp with his or her eyes and genitalia covered. Their skin is thus bleached and the yellow pigment in the body is broken down or lysed, which is then excreted via stool or urine.
How safe is phototherapy?
Phototherapy is reasonably safe and does not cause any significant adverse side effects. Due to the precautions taken during the process, the baby’s eyes are not affected by the intense light. Infants admitted to the NICU for the phototherapy process are usually discharged within 24-48 hours of admission
Sunlight Exposure vs Phototherapy, what is recommended?
Sunlight is also helpful in reducing jaundice. Keep in mind, however, that sunlight is not a cure and the baby will require phototherapy if their condition worsens.