Managing Jaundice in Infants - Health Education - DesiMD Healthcare - India
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Managing Jaundice in Infants

Dr.Surya Rao Poodipeddi profile Authored by Dr.Surya Rao Poodipeddi on 7 Aug 2014 - 14:51.


It is universally known that more than half of all healthy infants develop a yellowish tinge to their skin in the first few days of life. If your baby has such a tinge you need not worry, but you should mention this to your family doctor. This becomes necessary if the child’s abdomen and legs are looking yellowish.

If your child is born full term you can be sure that within a week the baby looks pink and chubby. However, if the child is born earlier than the scheduled time it may take a bit longer for the child to get back its pinkish color. About 80 percent of premature babies develop jaundice between the 5th and 7th day after their delivery, which needs around a couple of months for full recovery.

Detecting Jaundice: Jaundice can be suspected or detectedby gently pressing the baby’s chest and releasing the pressure, when a yellowish discoloration is seen. You may also try applying gentle pressure on the palms of hands or soles of the feet. The yellowish tinge is distinctly obvious in fair colored babies. Another way to detect jaundice in dark colored babies is to look for their gums for yellowish disposition.

Causes: In healthy babies jaundice develops if their bilirubin content in the blood is in excess than normal values. Bilirubin is a chemical produced during the breakdown of old red blood cells. Newborns develop a tendency to have higher levels of the chemical because they have extra-oxygen carrying red blood cells and their young livers cannot metabolize the excess bilirubin.

As the bilirubin levels rise above normal levels, the tender skin shows a yellowish tinge which gradually moves down from head to neck to chest and finally the toes. This type of jaundice is called physiological jaundice, which gradually disappears after several days.

In rare cases the jaundiced newborns suffer from their nervous system damage, but only when the bilirubin levels are extremely high.In very rare cases jaundice can be caused by an incompatibility in the blood types between the mother and the baby which is termed as Rh incompatibility.

Because of the advances made in medical science fortunately, we can know about such an incompatibility through the blood tests done during pregnancy. Since the problem of any incompatibility can be detected early in pregnancy, one can avoid complications by administering an immune globulin injection to the mother before her delivery is due.

In some cases breast milk might interfere with the ability of a baby’s liver to process bilirubin resulting in prolonged jaundice in some newborns. This is termed as breast milk jaundice.

If your baby looks jaundiced, your doctor will order tests to estimate the bilirubin levels in the infant’s blood and determines whether the child needs treatment or not. If a baby is born full-term and is otherwise healthy, most doctors will not start any treatment unless the child’s bilirubin levels are in excess of 20-mg percent.

Treatment: Should treatment become necessary, the doctor will start phototherapy in which infants are exposed to blue bililights. Florescent type of light that breaks down excess of bilirubin so that the excess can be excreted through the baby’s liver. Phototherapy is a safe and effective treatment used since early seventies.

The baby usually lies naked under the lights for a couple of days with her eyes covered by a protective mask. One can organize this treatment in the house. If the bilirubin levels in the baby’s blood don’t warrant phototherapy you can expose the child to bright sunlight in the early morning or late afternoon to avoid sunburns.

If the baby develops breast milk-jaundice the best step is to stop nursing the child for 24 to 48 hours to lower the baby’s bilirubin levels. Since it needs baby’s sucking reflex for proper supply of breast milk, your doctor will try to avoid stopping nursing the baby unless it is a must to bring down the bilirubin levels. Should the mother require to stop nursing her baby it is essential to empty the breasts with a breast pump to maintain the milk supply in the first week or two.

Mothers should remember that jaundice in a newborn is a temporary condition that usually clears up quickly without any intervention and has no long-term effects (except in very severe cases). If you have any serious doubts you should always consult a pediatrician to ascertain ways and means to restore normalcy and bring back the child to her original pink color.

*Disclaimer: This is not medical advice. The content is for educational purposes only. Please contact your doctor for any health care issues.