Expert advice about jaundice
Dr Peter Ilves gives advice on dealing with jaundice.
'My daughter became jaundiced a few days after her birth but doctors tested her and said it would clear up without treatment. Why did this happen, and why didn’t my baby get phototherapy?'
Jaundice in a newborn is very common, and we often call it neonatal jaundice. It can look dramatic but in many cases is not significant, doesn’t need treatment and will get better on its own.
However, some babies have jaundice over a longer period – this can particularly be the case in those who are breastfed, although we don’t really know why. Jaundice is caused by a yellow pigment (bilirubin), which is released when red blood cells (haemoglobin) break down; usually the liver deals with it. However, the liver of a newborn baby is developing rapidly and can take up to two weeks to settle down. Also, a newborn has a high level of red blood cells that will naturally break down. This combination of factors means the pigment appears under the skin.
This is all normal for a baby; the jaundice often takes two to three days to appear and about 60 per cent of babies will have it, but only about five per cent will require any intervention. If jaundice is present immediately after birth there are other causes to look for. There may be a yellow tinge to the whites of the eyes, yellowing of the skin, and your baby’s urine can change colour too. If this occurs at any time, always report it to your midwife, GP, health visitor or paediatrician.
They will check the level of bilirubin in your baby’s blood, and your specialist will be able to say whether treatment is needed or your baby simply needs to be monitored. Good luck.