What is Newborn Jaundice?

Newborn jaundice is a common condition in babies, characterized by a yellow tint in the skin and eye whites. This occurs due to the accumulation of a substance called bilirubin in the infant's bloodstream. Typically, bilirubin is processed by the liver, but in newborns, the liver may not yet be fully developed to handle this task efficiently.

Why Does It Happen?

In utero, a mother's liver processes bilirubin for the baby. Post-birth, this responsibility shifts to the baby's liver. During the initial days, as the baby's liver matures, it might struggle to eliminate bilirubin effectively, leading to jaundice. This is a common occurrence among newborns, regardless of their race or skin color.

Symptoms and Progression

Jaundice usually starts on the face and progressively spreads to the chest, arms, and legs, depending on the bilirubin levels. A notable sign is the yellowing of the whites of the eyes. Generally, the condition improves within a week and completely resolves by one month. While mostly harmless, in rare cases, high bilirubin levels can lead to brain damage.

Breastfeeding and Its Impact on Newborn Jaundice

Newborn jaundice is more likely in babies who aren't adequately fed and consequently lose weight.

For breastfeeding infants, it's recommended to nurse 8 to 12 times daily in the first days. This aids in milk production and helps maintain lower bilirubin levels. If breastfeeding poses challenges, seeking advice from a healthcare provider or lactation expert is advised, as breast milk is the ideal nutrition for infants.

Treatment Options for Newborn Jaundice

Many cases of jaundice don't require medical intervention. When necessary, phototherapy, a light-based treatment, is used to help break down excess bilirubin. During this treatment, the infant, wearing only a diaper, is placed under a phototherapy light until bilirubin levels drop to safe limits.

Duration and Resolution

In breastfed infants, jaundice may persist for more than 2 to 3 weeks, while in formula-fed infants, it typically resolves within 2 weeks. If jaundice lasts beyond 4 weeks or is accompanied by pale-colored stools, consulting a pediatrician is crucial. Regular feedings can accelerate bilirubin elimination through bowel movements. In rare cases, a temporary pause in breastfeeding might be necessary for 'breast milk jaundice', but regular expression of breast milk during this period ensures breastfeeding can be resumed without risk once bilirubin levels decrease.