What is jaundice?

Women who had a difficult delivery, namely with forceps or ventouse, who had a C-section, who had induced labour, who received narcotics (ex. Demerol) or had an epidural have babies that are much more at risk of developing jaundice. Also, Rh-negative babies and the babies that receive a lot of aspiration after birth are also more at risk.

Babies have jaundice when their blood contains too much bilirubin. Bilirubin is a normal pigment that is created in the body during the normal recycling of old red blood cells. In general, it is transformed by the liver, recycled and removed from the body in the stool. When the baby has jaundice, the body makes too much bilirubin or the liver doesn’t eliminate it fast enough. Often, frequent feeding (especially breastfeeding) of your baby during the first hours or days following birth contribute to reduce the risks of jaundice. Your baby will have more stools and the milk will give your baby’s liver the energy needed to transform the bilirubin.

Is jaundice dangerous?

Most jaundice cases are not dangerous for your baby. It usually appears between day 3 and 5. It disappears later, as your baby’s body learns to eliminate bilirubin. However, in some cases, the baby’s blood can contain so much bilirubin that it can become harmful. If the level of bilirubin becomes very high, some of your baby’s brain cells can be damaged. The baby can become less active. In some rare cases, he can also experience convulsions. This type of jaundice can also be responsible for cerebral palsy, deafness or heavy developmental problems. Fortunately, it is usually possible to prevent such problems.

When is jaundice most dangerous?

Jaundice can cause problems to some babies such as:

  • Premature babies born before 37 completed weeks of pregnancy;
  • Babies that weigh less than 2 500 grams at birth;
  • Babies whose blood type present an incompatibility with their mother’s blood type;
  • Babies that have a very early jaundice, especially during the first 24 hours of life;
  • Babies whose jaundice extended to the arms and legs;
  • Babies who have an infection;
  • Babies that have bruises and for which birth has been difficult (for example after the use of forceps);
  • Babies who have brothers and sisters that had jaundice at birth and had to be treated.
After leaving the hospital, when should I call my doctor?

Call your doctor if your baby presents at least one of the following symptoms:

  • He refuses to be breastfed or bottle-fed;
  • He is always drowsy;
  • He looses a lot of weight (more that 10% of his birth weight);
  • His jaundice is severe (his arms and legs are yellowy of orangey).

Your doctor will perform a physical examination, often followed by blood tests, to determine how severe your baby’s jaundice is. He could then decide what treatment to give him, if any. Jaundice is generally not dangerous and you will even be allowed to return home without any worry. Doctors usually recommend, when you go back home and your baby has a little jaundice, to give your baby a little light treatment by the window and to breastfeed your baby as much as possible so that he can eliminate as often as possible.

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