Jaundice in newborns: Symptoms, causes, treatments and prevention

Jaundice in newborns, also known as neonatal jaundice, is a common condition that causes a yellowing of the skin and eyes.

Babies with jaundice [NHS]

It typically occurs due to an excess of bilirubin, a yellow pigment produced during the normal breakdown of red blood cells. While usually not serious, it's important to understand the causes and treatments to ensure proper care.

  • Definition: This is the most common type of jaundice in newborns, appearing 2-4 days after birth and usually resolving within 1-2 weeks.
  • Cause: Immature liver function in newborns is often unable to process bilirubin efficiently.
  • Definition: Occurs in breastfed babies, often due to insufficient intake of breast milk in the first few days of life.
  • Cause: Low-calorie intake and dehydration can lead to decreased bilirubin elimination.
  • Definition: Appears after the first week of life and can persist longer than physiological jaundice.
  • Cause: Substances in breast milk can interfere with bilirubin processing.
  • Definition: Conditions like Rh or ABO incompatibility where the mother and baby’s blood types are different.
  • Cause: Maternal antibodies attack the baby’s red blood cells, leading to increased bilirubin production.
  • Definition: Babies born before 37 weeks of gestation.
  • Cause: Premature babies have less developed livers and higher red blood cell turnover.
  • Definition: Disorders that cause increased breakdown of red blood cells.
  • Examples: G6PD deficiency, hereditary spherocytosis.
  • Definition: Infections in the newborn can sometimes lead to jaundice.
  • Examples: Sepsis, urinary tract infections.
  • Examples: Bruising during birth, internal bleeding, certain enzyme deficiencies.

The treatment for neonatal jaundice depends on its severity and underlying cause. Here are common treatment methods:

  • Definition: The most common treatment for significant jaundice.
  • Method: Babies are placed under a special type of light that helps break down bilirubin in the skin.
  • Types: Conventional phototherapy, fiber-optic blankets.
  • Definition: A more intensive treatment used in severe cases.
  • Method: The baby's blood is replaced with donor blood to quickly lower bilirubin levels.
  • Definition: Used for babies with blood group incompatibility.
  • Method: IVIG can reduce the need for exchange transfusion by lowering antibody levels.
  • Method: Ensuring the baby is well-hydrated and fed frequently can help decrease bilirubin levels by promoting regular bowel movements and bilirubin excretion.
  • Examples: Addressing infections with antibiotics, treating hemolytic disorders.
  • Monitoring: Regular monitoring of bilirubin levels in the blood to determine the need for treatment.
  • Methods: Blood tests, transcutaneous bilirubinometer.
  • Checking Symptoms: Observing for yellowing of the skin and eyes, lethargy, poor feeding.
  • Purpose: Ensuring jaundice resolves and monitoring for any potential complications.
  • Breastfeeding: Encourages early and frequent breastfeeding to promote bilirubin excretion.
  • Formula Feeding: Ensuring adequate intake if breastfeeding is not possible.
  • Premature Infants: Closer monitoring of bilirubin levels.
  • Blood Group Incompatibility: Testing and early intervention if necessary.

Jaundice in newborns is a common and usually manageable condition. Understanding the causes and appropriate treatments can help ensure that affected babies receive the care they need to prevent complications.

Regular monitoring and early intervention are key to managing neonatal jaundice effectively. If you have any concerns about jaundice in a newborn, it's important to seek advice from a healthcare professional.


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