Q: Hi! I have a newborn baby. She’s 7 days old. I realized the eyes are yellowish. They said in the clinic to put her on the window when the sun appears. I’m only breastfeeding – her will that help
A: Jaundice is a condition in which there is yellowing of the eyes or the skin. It can happen in both children and adults. Usually, when old red blood cells are broken down, a yellow pigment, bilirubin is released as part of that process. The bilirubin is removed from the body through urine and stool. It is the bilirubin that gives rise to that yellow colour seen in jaundice.
Other symptoms of jaundice include deep yellow urine and pale stools.
In newborn babies, there are two types of jaundice (neonatal jaundice) that can occur: Physiological jaundice and pathological jaundice.
Physiological jaundice occurs as a natural process of life. While in the uterus, the baby’s bilirubin is removed through the placenta. Once the baby is born, he/she has to handle this bilirubin business by himself/herself 😀 (talk about responsibility immediately after touching down in planet earth!) because his organs are unable to deal with all the bilirubin released from breakdown of red blood cells. As the bilirubin accumulates in blood, jaundice results. Typically, this jaundice appears about 24hours after birth, actually gets worse until the 3rd or 4th day. It would usually have disappeared by the end of one or two weeks.
Pathological jaundice is due to a disease condition like infection, mother and baby’s blood groups not being compatible etc. This is typically present before 24 hours of birth. Indeed, this is the main difference between the two types of jaundice. The one that occurs naturally is seen after 24 hours while the one due to disease is seen before 24 hours…rule of thumb 😀
Jaundice may be mild, disappearing on its own, especially physiologic jaundice. However, sometimes, the yellowness deepens, the baby may develop a high-pitched cry and/or develop arched back. These are dangerous signs and this child should be in a hospital. Indeed, if you observe jaundice in your baby after you have left the hospital, please get it checked out in the hospital just to be sure. Most babies are able to deal with this excess bilirubin on their own without needing treatment. However, some other babies may be put under special lights called phototherapy or in more serious conditions, an exchange blood transfusion may be done (literally, this involves practically exchanging the baby’s bilirubin-filled blood with ‘new’ blood).
The main focus in jaundice is to bring down the level of the bilirubin. If this is not done, it could cross the blood/brain barrier and stain the brain leading to brain damage, a condition called Kernicterus. More frequent feeding is usually suggested as this helps the baby get rid of more bilirubin.
Will breastfeeding alone help? You didn’t quite specify when your baby’s jaundice appeared. It is key to confirm if it’s pathological or physiological. This will determine the appropriate treatment.
Have a good evening, everyone 😀