Jaundice: When Your Baby Looks Yellow
Why can't babies come with instruction manuals? Why can't they give an hour crash course before sending you home? Even if they did, would it really change how much a parent worries? Home is such a welcoming and warm place to be after giving birth. You want your own bed, your baby's items that you picked out... You want your own food and family. So when you get to go home, the last thing you are thinking about is your baby changing colors.
Yes, you read that right -- changing colors. But yet, almost all newborns do change from that rosy red-ish pink to a tinted yellowish color. Sometimes it's not that noticeable, while other times (especially when dressed in yellow) it is apparent that the baby is yellow! Most parents overlook it until they see the whites of baby's eyes start turning yellow -- and then the panic sets in. "WHY IS MY BABY YELLOW?"
This is called jaundice and it occurs in almost all newborns. While jaundice can be dangerous at extremely high levels over a prolonged period of time, typical newborn jaundice is nothing to worry about. (Perhaps you may want to edit pictures to black and white for a week or so!) But what exactly is jaundice? Why does is happen? And how can you help your baby through jaundice as quickly as possible?
What is Jaundice?
When baby's body breaks down red blood cells after birth, a yellowish substance called bilirubin is released into the blood stream. The liver is then responsible to break down the bilirubin, but most newborns' livers aren't quite mature enough to do this right away. Because of the delay in processing the bilirubin, the infant's skin and eyes begin to turn a bit yellow. The earlier a baby is born, the higher the chances are of jaundice occurring. This is all completely normal, but tends to trigger panic because a baby is only a few days old when this happens. Your pediatrician can find baby's exact bilirubin levels with a simple non-invasive blood test, and you'll have immediate results. If the number is higher than expected, you'll be asked to come back in about 48 hours to ensure the number is dropping. (If it is not dropping - or it is increasing, your pediatrician will talk you through your options.)
Often, jaundice babies struggle with waking up or staying awake to eat. Breastfed infants tend to stay yellow a bit longer than formula fed babies because their bodies are processing the bilirubin naturally. Some pediatricians will encourage a mother to supplement with formula even though it is not needed. While the jaundice may fade quicker, this may impact a mother's milk supply, the baby's latch and the overall breastfeeding journey. As long as baby is having plenty of wet and soiled diapers, and milk is being transferred well, jaundice will work itself out.
How Can You Help?
- Babies eliminate the bilirubin by pooping. You can encourage plenty of poop by breastfeeding baby around the clock and avoiding a schedule. You want your baby getting as much milk as possible!
- Have baby checked for lip and tongue tie, as these can affect baby's latch and ability to transfer milk well. An experienced ENT can make the world of difference!
- Take baby outside! Vitamin D from sunlight helps baby process the bilirubin. Of course, keep baby out of high temperatures, but don't be afraid of the sun.
- Light Therapy is also an option if levels are on the boarder of normal and high. A NICU stay is not needed unless levels are too high and not decreasing, but a Bili-Blanket can be rented through insurance and brought home. Baby will look like a little glow worm, but it'll help lower those levels quickly.
To all the new moms and moms-to-be... there will be a lifetime of things to worry about, try not to let a little bit of yellow stress you out! Learn more about newborn jaundice on AmericanPregnancy.org