Jaundice in Newborns Pediatric Advice



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Jaundice in Newborns

Newborns always have some degree of jaundice. While in the womb, babies have a lot of circulating red blood cells in order to carry oxygen from the umbilical cord. At birth, when the lungs take over the job of oxygen delivery, the newborn no longer needs all the red blood cells and so many are programmed to break down in the first week of life. It is the break down of these red blood cells that releases the pigment bilirubin that makes babies jaundiced.
Jaundice is not to be feared, but if it is very high, then you may need to take measures to lower the bilirubin. Levels of bilirubin in the 20’s for days or weeks can be dangerous for the brain and can cause a permanent type of brain damage called kernicterus. This is very rare, but totally avoidable. Careful monitoring when your infant looks yellow will allow us to determine whether or not your baby is at any risk.

The important thing to know is what you can do about your babies jaundice. The key way bilirubin is eliminated from the body is by adequate nutrition. Hopefully your baby is breast feeding, but if not, then they are most likely on formula. It is the volume of breast milk or formula that will help the baby reduce the bilirubin. By making sure your baby is hydrated with breast milk and/or formula, you are helping your baby to process and eliminate these high levels of bilirubin.

Light therapy in the form of a bilirubin blanket may occasionally be needed. If your baby loses beyond 10% of their birth weight and has significant bilirubin levels making them sleepy, you may need to supplement your baby with donor milk or formula if your breast milk has not yet come in adequately.

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