Jaundice (clinically known as neonatal hyperbilirubinemia), is a common medical condition that may develop in newborns within the first two to five days after birth. It occurs due to high levels of bilirubin in the body (a waste product created from the breakdown of blood containing proteins present particularly in red blood cells).
When the baby is growing in the mother’s womb, the placenta removes bilirubin from body, as a result of which in most newborns’ bilirubin levels tends to be on the higher front, immediately after birth. Estimates suggest that around 60% of full-term newborns get affected by jaundice, starting from second or third day of their birth. If not treated for a long time, infant jaundice can lead to potentially serious complications and even severe brain damage later on.
Dr. Manu Sharma, Consultant Neonatology, Paras Bliss Hospital, Panchkula says “Infants can suffer from jaundice immediately after birth, thus making their skin turn yellow. The life spans of newborn red blood cells are usually less as compared to adults, and the liver is also immature to handle an increased bilirubin load. This results in imbalance between bilirubin production and excretion leading to jaundice. In general, full-term babies are less susceptible as compared to premature babies, when it comes to development of jaundice at a very early stage. A reason behind this could be that a newborn baby’s growing liver might not be able to remove enough bilirubin from blood, or the intestine tends to absorb bilirubin more widely. While many parents take jaundice at birth lightly, it must be underlined that this disease can lead to internal bleeding, liver problems, infections, and other complications in future. While there is no sure way to completely prevent jaundice, but knowing the risk factors may help to determine what can be done to stay prepared and protect your little one,”
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that all newborn babies should be examined for jaundice every time their vital statistics are measured (or at least every 8 to 12 hours), before discharge from the hospital after birth, and again a few days after the discharge.
Here are the other advisory steps for parents to deal with jaundice at birth for their babies:
1. Identifying risk factors –Certain blood incompatibilities can cause more blood to break down, producing more bilirubin such as:
• Mothers with Rh negative and O+ blood group
• Genetic enzyme deficiencies, such as glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase deficiency
2. Reducing the risk of a pre-term birth – Babies born before 37 weeks are at an increased risk of developing jaundice. The liver of a preterm baby is less developed than that of a full-term baby, making it even more difficult to eliminate bilirubin. Some pre-term risk factors, such as age or multiple births cannot be remedied. Other environmental risks can be:
• Early and consistent prenatal care can ensure that the baby stays as healthy as possible during the pregnancy
• Chemical contaminants such as tobacco, alcohol, street drugs, and some medications can increase your chances of preterm birth hence to be avoided
• Stress is also a major risk for preterm birth, hence to be avoided
3. Begin breastfeeding early – It has been observed that mothers who begin breastfeeding within the first few hours after a birth are more likely to succeed than those who wait. Moreover, the colostrum a mother produces early, prompts the baby’s digestive system to eliminate waste, which helps to expel excess bilirubin from the intestines.
4. Feeding the baby frequently – A steady supply of milk helps in increasing the newborn’s weight and development, including the development of the liver. This is true for both breastfed and formula fed babies. Ideally, newborns should be fed every 2 hours or at least 8 to 12 times a day.