My baby boy looks like a red banana, literally. Most of his skin is a red tinge, but if you place pressure on his skin the underlying color is yellow. The sclera of his eyes also have a yellow hue to them. My baby boy has jaundice. If my daughter had not had jaundice when she was born I would have been more worried.
When Johanna was born the doctor didn’t want to release us from the hospital because her bilirubin levels were too high. When we went home we had to go to the doctor once a day for a week straight. Each day they checked her levels by a blood test. That was no fun. Eventually she got better. This time, my son Braeden’s bilirubin levels started out lower than Johanna’s. The doctors weren’t as concerned. However now his levels surpassed my daughters numbers. He is right on the border of actually needing treatment.
Jaundice is the yellowish pigmentation of the skin and the sclera of the eyes due to high bilirubin levels. As red blood cells break down bilirubin builds up in the blood stream. One of the functions of the liver is to get rid of the excess bilirubin. Babies’ livers are often not mature enough to fully get rid of the bilirubin. Pre-term babies before 38 weeks are especially susceptible to jaundice. 60% of babies born have jaundice. Most cases are not severe enough to treat.
As mentioned before, Jaundice in babies is caused by immature livers not being able to break down the bilirubin. Often the cause is due to the baby being born pre-term. Excessive bruising during birth can also lead to more red blood cells needed to be broken down. If a mother’s blood type is different from her baby’s, the mother can create antibodies against the baby’s blood cells. Those antibodies cross the placenta and lead to a faster rate or red blood cell breakdown. Also, some mothers cannot addecuately breast feed. Dehydration and decreased calorie intake can lead to an onset of jaundice. The more a baby can pee the more a baby can eliminate the broken down bilirubin in their pee. If a mother cannot adequately breast feed they will become dehydrated and hence jaundice.
Treatment includes getting sunlight exposure and or a bili light. Light, especially light from the green-blue spectrum breaks down the bilirubin. The green-blue light spectrum is necessary, however UV or IR rays are not. That is why placing a child near a window helps treat jaundice. Placing then behind a window helps block UV and IR rays which can be dangerous. Luckily, with Braeden it’s fairly cool around so he can get sunlight and not get hot. Many doctors also suggest indirect sunlight, especially to prevent over heating of the baby that may occur by placing them behind a window.
In extreme cases a bili light is needed to break down the bilirubin even more. Since the light is blue, it’s not to distracting for the baby to sleep. A doctor will recommend this with higher levels of bilirubin. Sometimes this can be done in a clinic, or you can rent or purchase a bili light.
Time is also necessary. Eventually a baby’s liver will mature and be able to perform it’s function. In cases where a mother is not adequately breast feeding, a mother can supplement with formula. The formula will prevent dehydration and further eliminate the bilirubin in their pee.
When bilirubin levels are too high, and not treated it can cause brain damage. However, don’t fear. Most cases are never that bad. Often times sources will tell you the worst case scenario when in reality it’s not that bad. So if you are a parent reading this article, and your child has jaundice, don’t worry. Luckily I’ve been through this before, so I am just taking it in stride. As a photographer, it just makes it a hassle because my baby looks like a popsicle in photos.
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