Ages & Stages: Decoding Jaundice
In researching this story, I asked my husband what he knew about jaundice, to which he replied, “What – do you mean you want to go to Jamba Juice?” One trip to Jamba Juice later he admitted that he knew nothing about it. It turns out, there is more to knowing about jaundice than what I originally thought.
Jennifer Hudson, Medical Director of Newborn Services at Prisma Health-Upstate was a wealth of knowledge about what parents need to know about their newborn if they are told they have jaundice. Jaundice itself it a buildup of waste products in the bloodstream of a newborn. One of the best things a new parent can do is to make sure their baby is eating properly. Once they begin taking nourishment, the waste begins to be eliminated and the toxic levels drop. In other words, dirty diapers are a good thing in the first few days. Having relied on mom to take away all the waste products until delivery, some new babies’ bodies get just a little behind in the process. The biproduct of that waste is a buildup of bilirubin which causes the skin and eyes to have a yellow hue.
“Many babies will begin processing waste naturally as long as they have an adequate intake of milk, but some require a procedure called phototherapy,” Hudson said. “The ultraviolet lights help convert bilirubin to a form that can be passed into the urine.”
The extent of my knowledge of jaundice was to treat it by putting the baby in the sun. Hudson said phototherapy “is much like a mini tanning bed for babies.”
“They wear protective eye wear, and as much skin as possible is exposed to the UV light, but it doesn’t tan or harm their new skin,” she said.
Jaundice can be a serious issue for babies if not monitored or treated. Hudson said that while rare, only 1 in 100,000, the toxic levels can lead to a disease called kernicterus, which can lead to permanent brain damage, which is why babies are immediately given blood tests to detect any toxic levels in the blood stream.
Also interesting to me was the fact that, according to Hudson, jaundice also tends to run in families.
“If one child was jaundiced as a newborn, it is likely that their siblings may also be jaundiced,” she said. “Mothers with diabetes during pregnancy are also at increased risk for having a baby with jaundice.”
In the end though, the best form of treatment for mom and a baby with jaundice is doing just what the doctor ordered and bonding. While it might be tempting to rush home with your new bundle of joy, Hudson urges new parents to stay the extra day in the hospital and rest. Well, maybe not rest, but at least be able to pretend you are at an upscale hotel with a linen service.