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What causes jaundice?
Q: Our newborn has yellow colour in his skin and eyes, and the doctor said he has jaundice. What causes this, how can it be prevented, and how dangerous is this? They want to re-admit our baby to the hospital because of it.
A: Tamara, the yellowish colour of your baby’s skin and eyes is common in a newborn’s first week of life. Newborn jaundice is caused by a buildup of bilirubin, a chemical produced by the normal breakdown of old red blood cells. While everyone has bilirubin in their blood, newborns often have higher levels because they are born with extra red blood cells and their livers are not yet fully able to process them. Too much bilirubin makes the baby’s skin appear yellow, beginning in the face and eyes and sometimes extending down to the chest, stomach and legs. You can check for jaundice by gently pressing your fingertip on the baby’s forehead, nose, chest or abdomen. Right after you remove your finger, if the skin underneath looks yellowish, be sure to check with your doctor.

Mild jaundice in newborns usually goes away without any treatment. However, high levels of bilirubin can harm the nervous system if not treated promptly. If your baby is jaundiced, the doctor can test a small sample of his blood to measure the bilirubin level. Depending on the level and your baby’s age and health, the doctor will tell you whether your baby needs treatment to prevent complications. Other tests may also be done to determine if there are other medical conditions that may be causing the jaundice.

If your baby has high bilirubin levels, the usual treatment is for your baby to sleep under special lights that help break it down. This treatment usually requires the baby to stay in the hospital for a few days, but some doctors arrange for light treatment at home. When your baby is under the lights, he’ll wear soft patches to protect his eyes. Occasionally, other treatments are needed to help clear the bilirubin from the blood.

In all, remember that babies usually recover from the jaundice without any problems. Follow your doctor’s advice about the treatment your baby needs.