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Treating Jaundice in babies

Neonatal jaundice develops in newborns owing to high levels of bilirubin in the blood. It is marked by yellowing of the skin and the whites’ of the eyes. It does not usually require an aggressive treatment schedule. It is a common condition and does not leave behind any long-term effects.

Neonatal jaundice is a condition that develops in newborns owing to high levels of bilirubin in the blood. All newborns have high bilirubin levels as compared to adults but it is important to identify the babies at risk to ensure timely treatment. Bilirubin is produced with the breaking down of red blood cells. It passes through the liver and is excreted through the intestines in the form of bile.

Fully mature livers of the adults are capable of filtering and breaking down bilirubin which is not the case with the immature livers of newborns. In a newborn, the rate at which the bilirubin builds up is greater than the ability of its liver to break it down. Thus, jaundice develops as early as between 2-4 days of the child’s birth.

With rising bilirubin levels, the yellowness begins to spread downwards from the head and in severe cases, reaches the toes. Jaundice occurs in almost 60% of all full-term babies while pre-term babies are more susceptible to neonatal jaundice.

Jaundice usually occurs in the initial days of the child’s birth. It can be recognized by the slightly yellowing whites of eyes and the skin.

Prevention

The following measures can be undertaken to reduce the risk of jaundice in a baby.

  • The best way to prevent neonatal jaundice is by breastfeeding the baby at least 8 to 12 times a day.
  • Starting to breastfeed the baby as soon as possible after birth.
  • Avoiding supplementation in the initial days after the baby’s birth.
  • Testing the pregnant mother with the relevant blood tests to measure the bilirubin levels in her blood.
  • Taking precautions to reduce the risk of a pre-term delivery by avoiding drugs and alcohol
  • Ensuring proper pre-natal care for the mother
  • Exposing the baby to light also helps breaking down the bilirubin levels
  • Feeding the baby frequently. If the baby does not breastfeed frequently, it is to be fed formula food as additional supplement.
  • Ensuring that the baby is latched on properly while breastfeeding.
  • Discontinuing to breastfeed the baby may result in the jaundice getting worse.

Symptoms

The presence of one or more of the following symptoms may point towards the baby having jaundice.

  • Fever
  • Vomiting
  • Lethargy
  • Pallor and poor feeding
  • Light stools and dark urine
  • If the baby sleeps more than usual
  • Bruising
  • Reduced appetite
  • Yellowing of the eyes’ whites and the skin

Treatment

Neonatal jaundice does not require an aggressive treatment schedule unless very severe since the baby’s liver gradually develops to filter the bilirubin levels. The pediatrician may suggest blood tests to determine the bilirubin levels in the baby’s blood.

Infants with jaundice are usually treated with phototherapy. Phototherapy is a process in which the baby is made to lie naked under fluorescent lights. This exercise helps in breaking down the excessive bilirubin levels. In case the bilirubin level rises to dangerously high levels, the baby may also need a blood transfusion.

Neonatal jaundice is a common condition and does not leave behind any long-term effects after treatment.


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