Jaundice

More than half of all newborn babies develop jaundice, a yellow tinge to the skin and eyes. Most affected babies show signs a few days after birth. Jaundice usually lasts several weeks.

A baby has jaundice when bilirubin, which is produced by the breakdown of red blood cells, builds up faster than his or her liver can break it down and pass it from the body. Jaundice usually disappears on its own. It doesn't cause any discomfort to your baby.

Your baby may develop jaundice for a few reasons:

• Bilirubin is being made more quickly than the liver can handle.

• The baby's developing liver isn't able to remove bilirubin from the blood.

• Too much of the bilirubin is reabsorbed from the intestines before the baby gets rid of it in a bowel movement.

Although mild levels of jaundice don't require treatment, more severe cases can require a newborn to stay longer in the hospital. Currently, jaundice may be treated in several ways:

• You may be asked to feed the baby more frequently, which increases the amount of bilirubin passed with bowel movements.

• The doctor may place your baby under a bilirubin light. This treatment, called phototherapy, uses a special lamp to help rid the body of excess bilirubin.

• The doctor may give your baby intravenous immune globulin (antibodies) to decrease the severity of the jaundice if the bilirubin level becomes extremely high.

• Rarely, an exchange blood transfusion is done to reduce the bilirubin level.

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