Some conditions are common in a newborn’s first few months of life and jaundice is one of them. Here’s what you need to know.
WORDS CHRISTEL GERALYN GOMES
“Jaundice is a condition in which baby’s skin, and the whites of the eyes, look yellow. It is caused by too much ‘bilirubin’ – a natural substance that is the product of the normal breakdown of red blood cells – in the blood,” says Dr Abdul Alim, consultant at the Department of Neonatology at KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital (KKH).
Jaundice is very common with up to 60 per cent of full-term babies and 80 per cent of pre-term babies developing it in their first week of life, explains Dr Alim. It usually appears between 48 and 96 hours after birth and goes away in one to two weeks, as the bilirubin is naturally excreted through stool and urine. To ensure that it does, keep baby well hydrated – breast milk is made up of 80 per cent water and will keep baby safe.
“Some breastfed babies – approximately two per cent – tend to have slightly prolonged, mild to moderate jaundice which could last one to two months. This is also a harmless condition, sometimes referred to as ‘breast milk jaundice’,” says Dr Alim. Even in cases of breast milk jaundice, doctors do not recommend breast milk to be substituted with formula.
However, if your baby has developed jaundice in the first 24 hours of life, this is not normal
and requires immediate medical attention. Sometimes, jaundice cannot be seen clearly
in babies with darker skin tones and the best way to tell if the baby has jaundice
is with a bilirubin blood test.
Also, when the bilirubin level rises beyond an acceptable level in jaundiced babies, your doctor may need to put your baby under special blue lights (phototherapy) to lower the bilirubin level. “Parents are discouraged from placing the baby in direct sunlight. This practice of treatment for jaundice is unsafe and could cause sunburn,” says Dr Alim.