Even though it is estimated that up to 50 percent of all healthy full-term babies have at least a small degree of jaundice, this does certainly not mean that it is “normal”!! As with any infant illnesses…..if left unchecked, it can have very damaging consequences!! But what do you need to look out for?
First of all…what is jaundice?
Jaundice is the medical term for yellowing of the skin and eyes from a high level of bilirubin in the blood. Normally, the liver removes bilirubin from the body. But in some newborns, the liver has not developed enough and cannot do it’s job efficiently, and jaundice will occur.
How can it be dangerous to babies?
If left undiagnosed and not treated, a dangerous medical condition known as kernicterus can develop. This happens when the blood contains excessively high levels of bilirubin which builds up in the brain. Kernicterus can cause complications such as vision problems, hearing loss, cerebral palsy, and intellectual disabilities. Early diagnosis and treatment of jaundice is so important in newborn infants to avoid these complications.
Does my baby have jaundice?
Infant jaundice is fairly easy to diagnose and treat. Parents should watch out for the following symptoms:
- Yellow skin that first develops in the head area and will gradually spread towards the baby’s toes
- A baby who doesn’t sleep or is overly fatigued
- A fussy baby who will not feed well
- A baby with very few wet nappies
The following symptoms are more extreme, and you should contact your GP or medical provider immediately:
- A high-pitched cry
- Inconsolable crying
- Arching of the body
- A limp body
- A stiff body
- Unusal eye movements
- Extreme fatigue
How to diagnose and treat jaundice….
A blood test is needed to get exact bilirubin levels. A reading of more than 20 is considered high risk. After birth, the bilirubin level should be checked roughly every 12 hours for the first two days and again when the baby is 4-5 days old. In mild cases, jaundice can disappear on its own over two to three weeks.
If your little one does need treatment, fortunately, it is relatively easy using light therapy. Light therapy (phototherapy) is a noninvasive treatment where the baby is placed under special lights. Only in extreme cases, an exchange transfusion may be necessary.
REMEMBER: If jaundice is left undiagnosed, it can be extremely dangerous, so if you are at all concerned, go straight to your medical practitioner!