BY SMH MOTHER-BABY NURSE LEAH BROWN, RN
1. What is jaundice?
Two-thirds of newborn babies will get jaundice in the first week following their birth. That can be a scary thought for new parents. Jaundice is caused when an infant has too much of bilirubin in his/her blood, so the body deposits it into the child’s skin and mucous membranes, causing a yellow tinge to his/her skin or whites of the eyes; bilirubin is the waste product of the breakdown of red blood cells.
In most cases, infant jaundice is mild and harmless, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). But in unusual situations, the bilirubin level can get very high and could cause brain damage, making it important to monitor the levels.
2. Who is at risk for having a baby with jaundice?
According to the AAP, risk factors associated with jaundice include:
• Baby born before 39 weeks’ gestation
• Birth using vacuum-assisted delivery
• If the mother's blood type is different than the infant's blood type
• Mother’s previous children who had jaundice
• Babies of East Asian decent
• Boy babies
• Infants who are discharged earlier than 72 hours after birth
• Newborns whose bilirubin levels are high in the first 24 hours after birth; bilirubin tests are routinely given to babies born at SMH, and they are given every 24 hours and before discharge
• Exclusively breastfed babies who are not getting enough milk
3. What can be done to prevent jaundice or catch it before it becomes severe?
The best way to try to prevent jaundice in a newborn is to breastfeed on demand. For moms who deliver at SMH, nurses in the Mother-Baby Unit will help with this as they are well trained in supporting and managing breastfeeding.
Be sure to count the baby’s poopy diapers; this is how infants excrete bilirubin. Tell your pediatrician or nurse if you think your baby looks jaundice or yellow. And if your newborn is not eating, seems lethargic, or has a very high-pitched cry, call your pediatrician.
In the hospital, bilirubin tests will be given regularly to monitor levels and diagnose jaundice, should the levels be too high. If a bilirubin test comes back as a high number, don't freak out! Babies diagnosed with jaundice might be prescribed phototherapy, which means he/she will be placed under a bilirubin light, on a lighted blanket, or both. Bilirubin tests will continue to be given until the baby’s level is within a safe range for discharge.
Always speak up if you feel something is not right with your baby. Your pediatrician and nurses are here to help and want you and your infant to be happy and healthy!
For more information on jaundice, visit the American Academy of Pediatrics website.
Leah Brown is a registered nurse who has worked in the Mother-Baby Unit at Sarasota Memorial Hospital for four years as a lactation specialist and bedside nurse. As a mother of two and former childbirth educator, doula, and school teacher, she enjoys educating new families and nursing students.