Jaundice is a prevalent condition in children, especially in newborns. It usually develops within the first few days of birth, and the skin color turns yellow. It goes away within a week or two if it’s mild. However, it can cause serious health issues, including brain damage, if not treated on time in moderate to extreme cases. That’s why it’s crucial for moms and caretakers need to know more about infant jaundice.
Infant jaundice is the infant’s skin and eyes’ yellowing due to high bilirubin levels in the infant’s blood. Bilirubin, in simple terms, is a yellowish pigment that comes from the infant’s red blood cells. The infant’s immature liver cannot remove bilirubin fast enough to prevent it from building up. (MedlinePlus 2021)
Usually, infant jaundice occurs between one and two weeks after birth and may not cause any severe damage to the infant’s health, your pediatrician will test for this in the hospital and will decide if further monitoring is necessary.
Causes of Infant Jaundice
The premature birth of an infant is one of the causes of infant jaundice. But, it can occur in full-term infants as well. The causes of this condition can be unclear.
An underlying disorder or disease can cause infant jaundice, including an infection in the infant’s blood (sepsis), internal bleeding, liver malfunction, mother and child’s blood incompatibility, biliary atresia, abnormality in baby’s red blood cells, and an enzyme deficiency. (Mayo Clinic 2020)
Symptoms of Infant Jaundice
The first clear symptom of infant jaundice is the change in skin color. The infant’s skin looks pale, yellow, or orange, depending on the severity of the condition.
The other symptoms include:
- dark-colored urine
- tarry looking stool with an onion-like smell
- fussiness, infant getting irritable due to high bilirubin
- yellowing of skin and eyes
- lethargy regularly rubs eyes or keeps them closed
- eats poorly
- sleeps more than usual
- decreased alertness, including poor muscle tone
- fever or vomiting frequently
In some cases, infant jaundice may be present in low amounts without any symptoms. The infant will have a normal body temperature and may not affect their appetite, sleep, or vision.
Complications of Infant Jaundice
Kernicterus is the syndrome that happens if high bilirubin encephalopathy and causes permanent brain damage. It may result in hearing loss, improper development of tooth enamel, involuntary and uncontrolled movements (athetoid cerebral palsy), and permanent upward gaze. (Mayo Clinic 2020)
Prevention of Infant Jaundice
Moms can take essential steps to help prevent infant jaundice, including breastfeeding the infant and not overfeeding them. Formula-fed newborns should have 1 to 2 ounces of formula every two to three hours for the first week.
Remember to keep the infant’s diaper area clean and dry. If you observe that your child has yellowing of their skin or eyes, or is lethargic, speak to your doctor right away.
Treatment typically includes rest, fluids, and phototherapy. Phototherapy uses light to break down bilirubin levels in the infant’s blood. (McCarthy 2021)
Most infants recover within a few days with no long-term problems. However, if infant jaundice is not treated quickly or is severe, it can lead to further health complications.
Medical Attention for Infant Jaundice
Complications of infant jaundice are rare but can include brain damage and death. Take your child to the doctor immediately if they show one or more symptoms of infant jaundice.
Consult the doctor immediately if infant jaundice is suspected, especially in a premature baby. The earlier infant jaundice is detected, the faster your baby is to treatment.
It’s vital to remember, severe cases of infant jaundice are rare. But, early diagnosis and treatment of infant jaundice are essential. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends screening every newborn for jaundice before leaving the hospital and three to five days after birth.
The next step is to follow up with your doctor as recommended to ensure your infant’s health and wellbeing. As a new mom, there are so many things to learn about your baby. Educating about common newborn ailments and having a good pediatrician are the best ways to keep our babies safe and healthy. Infant jaundice is manageable with proper diagnosis and care.
Mayo Clinic, Staff. “Infant Jaundice.” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 17 Mar. 2020, www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/infant-jaundice/symptoms-causes/syc-20373865.
McCarthy, Claire. “Newborn Jaundice: What Parents Need to Know.” Harvard Health, 4 Feb. 2021, www.health.harvard.edu/blog/newborn-jaundice-what-parents-need-to-know-2021020421886.
MedlinePlus, Staff. “Jaundice | Icterus.” MedlinePlus, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 22 Oct. 2021, medlineplus.gov/jaundice.html.