Jaundice in Babies: What You Need to Know

A Brooklyn mom and her 6-year-old son were just awarded $25 million by a jury that found the boy's jaundice went untreated when he was born. His jaundice was found to be the reason why he is now permanently handicapped and suffers from brain damage. Despite complaining about her son's yellowing skin, the mom says her doctors and nurses dismissed it as something that would just "go away." His mild jaundice got worse and he was diagnosed with hyperbilirubinemia, which can cause brain damage and cerebral palsy.

Wait, this is the same condition that we've been told is incredibly common and not really a big deal, right? Yes. But it helps to arm ourselves with as much information about newborn jaundice as possible in case we find our little ones need to be treated for it when they are born. Here are some important facts to know. 


The most common type of jaundice is called Physiologic Jaundice, which is caused by a baby's body having an excess of the enzyme bilirubin. Because their livers are underdeveloped, the enzyme isn't always effectively removed, which causes the skin and eyes to yellow. Babies at risk include those who lose a lot of weight after delivery, have diabetic moms, or are born after an induced labor. Most cases of newborn jaundice go away within two weeks after birth.

Breast Milk Jaundice occurs in babies who are breastfeeding and haven't been able to rid their bodies of bilirubin after about two weeks. Something in breast milk may block the liver's ability to break down the enzyme, which makes it really difficult for baby to flush it out of their system.

And then there's Breastfeeding Jaundice, which occurs when a baby isn't receiving enough breast milk. It's important for us to make sure our babies are latching on correctly from the start, and a lactation counselor should be able to assist with that. 

So what happens once a doctor diagnoses your baby with jaundice? Depending on how severe, treatments range from using an ultraviolet lamb called a bili light while in the hospital to trying an at-home lamp therapy treatment or simply exposing our newborns to sunlight. Whether you're breastfeeding or formula feeding, babies should be fed more often -- as many as 8 to 12 times a day -- in order to increase their fluid intake and help them flush out excess bilirubin.

It can be frightening when anything affects the health of our newborns, but, particularly with a condition as common as jaundice, the more we know, the less we are likely to freak out if it happens to us. 

Did your baby have jaundice? What was your experience with treatment?


Image via SilentObserver/Flickr

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