Jaundice in the newborn is very common. Often appearing on the second or third day or life, it is due to excess bilirubin in the baby’s body that will temporarily color the skin and eyes yellow.
Bilirubin comes from the breakdown of red blood cells in your baby’s liver. These blood cells are then excreted through the intestines. If your baby’s liver is not able to break them down fast enough or if the intestinal excretion is slow, the bilirubin level will rise in your baby, causing jaundice.
If the bilirubin rises to very high levels, it can affect your baby’s brain; however, this is very unusual. Your pediatrician will be watching for this very carefully. A bilirubin blood test is often performed to measure the baby’s bilirubin levels and guard against jaundice.
The most common cause of mild jaundice is physiologic jaundice, caused by your baby’s liver taking a few days to work properly and be able to effectively excrete the bilirubin.
Too little breast milk, chemicals in the breast milk, a preterm baby, and blood incompatibility with the mother’s blood cells are other causes of jaundice.
If the bilirubin levels start rising, your pediatrician may recommend supplementing breast feeding with formula. At times your baby might need to be put under a special light that helps him or her excrete the bilirubin.
Do contact your pediatrician immediately if your baby appears to be jaundiced.