Jaundice is a common condition in newborn babies, characterized by the yellowing of the skin and white regions of the eyes. The condition occurs when bilirubin (yellow pigment produced by the breakdown of red blood cells in the liver) accumulates as the newborn’s still maturing liver is not capable of processing and removing it from the body fast enough.
Mild jaundice is commonly seen in most newborn babies, which resolves in a week or two. It may also occur with premature birth, blood type mismatch between the mother and baby, insufficient breast milk, bruising or other internal bleeding at birth, enzyme deficiency, infection, liver malfunction or abnormal red blood cells.
Symptoms of severe jaundice include a fever above 100°F, deepening of the yellow color, poor sucking or feeding, sleepiness and high-pitched crying. The severity of jaundice cannot be determined just by visual examination, so your doctor usually orders a blood test to measure the levels of bilirubin. Other tests may be ordered, such as blood type, red blood cell count and Rh incompatibility to confirm on an underlying condition.
Treatment involves frequent feedings (8 to 12 times per day). Severe cases may require phototherapy, which uses a blue spectrum light to breakdown bilirubin, and blood transfusion, to replace the damaged blood with healthy blood cells.