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Newborn Jaundice

Jaun­dice is a com­mon, and usu­al­ly harm­less, con­di­tion that occurs in about one-half of all full-term infants. Most hos­pi­tals are now screen­ing babies for jaun­dice pri­or to dis­charge to ensure prop­er care. Phys­i­o­log­ic or nor­mal” jaun­dice may appear on the sec­ond or third day of life and is evi­denced by a yel­low col­or­ing of the skin and the white part of the eye. This reflects the liver’s imma­tu­ri­ty and resolves as the liv­er becomes bet­ter at remov­ing biliru­bin, the chem­i­cal in the blood that caus­es jaundice.

Pre­ma­ture babies are even more like­ly to become jaun­diced. It may appear lat­er and last longer in these infants, becom­ing most notice­able between the fourth and sev­enth day of life.

In breast-fed babies, jaun­dice is a reflec­tion of how easy it is to digest breast milk. These babies can keep a min­i­mal amount of jaun­dice for two to three months. Nor­mal­ly, this is of lit­tle con­cern. How­ev­er, in some cas­es, it is the result of mild dehy­dra­tion. If the con­di­tion becomes severe, we may sug­gest that a sup­ple­ment be giv­en for a brief peri­od. In those cas­es, the baby should always be breast fed first and then be offered a for­mu­la or elec­trolyte solu­tion after each breast feeding.

In infants who have exces­sive jaun­dice, the biliru­bin lev­el is checked reg­u­lar­ly by test­ing a small sam­ple of blood tak­en from the baby’s heel. Whether he or she needs spe­cial treat­ment will be deter­mined by the lev­el of biliru­bin, the age of the baby and the cause of jaundice.

Treat­ment for jaun­dice varies from giv­ing extra flu­ids and using indi­rect sun­light to pho­tother­a­py (plac­ing the baby under spe­cial lights), all of which speed up the removal of biliru­bin from the body. Flu­id intake is very impor­tant because biliru­bin is excret­ed in the stool and urine.