Jaundice refers to the color of skin, sclera and urine which turn yellow after birth, for a few days to few weeks, depending on the cause of increase in the yellow pigment, called bilirubin a neonate’s blood steam. The scientific term for jaundice is Hyperbilirubinemia. It is not considered normal, but is deemed physiological, when it is due to immaturity of the hepatobiliary system of a newborn (liver and its associated structures and their functions), does not harm the baby, and disappears in a few days without any treatment. Jaundice (more correctly Hyperbilirubinemia) that is not physiological but is pathological and can harm a baby is a reason for concern. There are several causes of pathological hyperbilirubinemia.
Neonatal jaundice is the yellowish tint seen on the baby’s skin and the white of the eyes, known as sclera. It indicates that there is too much of bilirubin in the blood. Bilirubin is one of the products formed after the body breaks down old red blood cells and is expelled by the body through stools and urine.
Jaundice in the newborn is typically seen within the first week after birth and usually goes away on its own. Yet, jaundice is something that needs to be taken seriously, if it is pathological, and if left untreated, it can enter the baby’s brain, deposit itself in some sensitive areas there, and lead to a condition called kernicterus, which can causes lifelong disability.
Jaundice in newborns occurs because the body is unable to adequately eliminate the bilirubin it produces because of breakdown of mature Red Blood Cells. During pregnancy, the body removes bilirubin from your baby through the placenta. After your baby is born, it needs to eliminate this bilirubin on its own through processing by spleen, liver, and the Gut
In most cases, babies show what is known as physiological jaundice due to the excess of bilirubin and this may begin to show within 24 hours after birth or within the first 72 hours, and disappears within a week.
Jaundice may be caused due to intrauterine and congenital infections, as well as due to infections derived from the environment after baby’s birth. A few cases of Jaundice are due to a mismatch of the mother and baby blood types, leading to a rapid breakdown of baby’s Red blood cells. Jaundice can persist for a couple weeks of more in prematurely born babies. Congenital structural and functional abnormalities of the hepatobiliary system lead to an obstructive jaundice, which may appear later in time that physiological jaundice but will have sinister outcomes.
Yes, physiological jaundice is a common condition seen in many babies after birth. Most cases of neonatal jaundice do not need to be treated as the symptoms usually disappear within a week or two. Physiological jaundice is very unlikely to increase to alarming levels that require intervention
Treatment is only advised if your baby shows high levels of bilirubin as there is risk of the bilirubin passing up to the brain causing brain damage i.e., kernicterus. Phototherapy and exchange transfusion are the 2 main types of treatment options for neonatal jaundice and these are conducted if the Serum Bilirubin levels are above physiologically acceptable levels.
If your baby seems to appear yellow even after the first week, immediately consult your pediatrician. Sometimes jaundice persists because the baby is not adequately fed and maybe a little dehydrated.