When to worry about jaundice

All babies will develop some degree of jaundice as a new-born. While it can be a sign of serious disease, it can also be very natural. Jaundice is due to a bi-product called bilirubin, which is produced as your baby destroys the red blood cells it had in the womb and replaces them with new ones. As the bilirubin accumulates, it causes a yellowish tinge to the skin and eyes. Your baby’s liver will eventually get rid of the accumulating bilirubin, but sometimes, being fairly new to the job, it needs a little help. This is important because at extremely high levels, this bilirubin can start to accumulate in the brain and cause brain damage. If your baby becomes jaundiced and has any of the signs below, please see a doctor:

  • Becomes Jaundice in the first 24 hours of life: If your baby becomes jaundiced in the first day of life, this suggest that more red blood cells are being broken down and much than their little liver can cope with. This can happen when the immune system is pushing the process of destruction for various reasons. Bilirubin is likely to accumulate in such a situation, and your baby will need treatment to help its liver with the process of elimination.
  • Is premature (born before 38 weeks gestation): Jaundice in a premature baby can be worrying because the baby’s liver may not be mature enough to remove the bilirubin effectively.
  • Has lost more than 10% of their birth weight: Weight loss may signify poor feeding and dehydration. In a dehydrated baby that is also jaundiced, the bilirubin will be in a more concentrated blood stream and therefore accumulate to dangerous levels faster.
  • Is passing pale chalky stools or very dark urine: Pale stools, of a pastel beige-like colour and dark urine like apple juice may signify that your baby’s liver is not functioning normally. This means the liver will struggle to eliminate the accumulating bilirubin.
  • Is lethargic (not waking for feeds or falling asleep during feeds): As the bilirubin accumulates in the brain it can cause the baby to become sleepy. This affects the baby’s ability to feed and further complicate matters by dehydrating the baby.
  • Is irritable or vomiting: A baby that is crying excessively and vomiting may have a co-existing infection. If your baby has an infection or is vomiting, it is unlikely to feed well, making it likely to become dehydrated witch increases the risk of bilirubin accumulating.


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