Neonatal jaundice

​Jaundice is a common and usually harmless condition in newborn babies.

In healthy, full-term babies, jaundice usually appears 2 to 3 days after birth. In most cases, the skin looks only slightly yellow and the symptoms pass spontaneously. Frequent feeding and good bowel movements may contribute to the faster disappearance of symptoms. Sunlight accelerates the removal of bilirubin.

Premature babies are more likely to suffer from jaundice. In premature babies, the onset of jaundice is later and it usually lasts longer.

Typical causes

 

Most babies have jaundice, because their liver does not yet function sufficiently effectively. The yellow colour is caused by bilirubin which is a hemoglobin breakdown product. Bilirubin is normally removed by the liver, but it may accumulate in the circulation of newborn babies, whose liver is not yet functioning sufficiently effectively.

Sometimes breast milk may cause jaundice. In such cases, jaundice begins approximately a week after birth and may continue for over a month. This condition is harmless.
Sometimes jaundice may be caused by blood group incompatibility between the mother and the baby. In such cases, the yellow colour is very distinct and the child turns yellow shortly after birth.

Treatment

The bilirubin level in blood is confirmed by a blood test, if necessary. Phototherapy with blue light is administered when the baby is distinctly yellow. In phototherapy, your baby is placed under blue light without clothes and with their eyes covered. Phototherapy is usually continued for one to three days, until the bilirubin levels have decreased to a safe level.

If the bilirubin levels are very high (usually because of blood group incompatibility) and the effects of phototherapy are not sufficiently fast, an exchange transfusion will be performed to remove excess bilirubin. However, exchange transfusions are very rare.
If not treated, intense jaundice can be harmful to the child.