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All about jaundice

Parents have been quite colorful recently with their questions about jaundice in their newborn baby, so here are a few thoughts on the topic. Jaundice is the yellow color that can develop in newborn babies during the first days after birth, due to a build-up of a chemical called bilirubin in the babys blood. In large amounts, bilirubin not only colors the skin yellow, but can also get into the brain and, at extremely high levels, cause brain damage. Normally the liver breaks down bilirubin before its level gets high, but sometimes a babys liver may not be able to do this efficiently. The jaundice, or yellow color, occurs as a warning sign that the bilirubin level is high but not yet high enough to affect the brain. A blood test is the best way to determine if its affecting the brain, but you can also check by gently pressing your fingertip on your babys forehead or the tip of the nose. When you remove your finger, the skin should briefly be white (regardless of race). If the skin is still yellow, then its important to contact the pediatrician to get a blood test that measures the level of bilirubin. Recent guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics make several key recommendations to keep the bilirubin level from getting too high. First, all babies need to be checked prior to discharge from the hospital to see if they have (or are at risk for) jaundice. They should also be re-checked at within seven days of birth. If your baby is bruised at birth, looks yellow, has some difficulty getting started breastfeeding, is born premature, or if there is a family history of jaundice, then the doctor should make sure your babys blood is tested before you take the infant home, to determine the bilirubin level Secondly, mothers should be encouraged to breastfeed at least eight times a day, since this will produce plenty of milk which keeps the baby hydrated and the bilirubin level down. If a high level of bilirubin is detected, the baby may need to be placed under ultraviolet lights (a treatment we call phototherapy) for a few days. This breaks down the bilirubin that the liver cannot and prevents it from causing further problems. If the jaundice does not go away even with this treatment, or if jaundice appears after several weeks, please check with your childs doctor to see if other treatments may be in order. Hopefully tips like this will do more than just skin the surface when it comes to watching for jaundice in your newborn and making sure its treated as soon as possible.

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