Jaundice is one of the most common conditions that can affect newborn babies.
Why do newborn babies develop jaundice? Jaundice is caused by a build up of bilirubin in the blood. Bilirubin is a yellow substance produced when red blood cells, which carry oxygen around the body, are broken down.
Jaundice is common in newborn babies because;
- Newborn babies have a higher number of red blood cells in their circulation
- A newborn baby’s liver is not fully developed, so it is less effective at removing the bilirubin from the blood
By the time a baby is about 2 weeks old, their liver is more efficient at processing bilirubin, so the jaundice usually resolves by itself without causing any harm nor requiring treatment.
- It is estimated that 60% of babies develop jaundice, usually when they are 2-3 days old
- Jaundice within the first 24 hours can be a sign of an underlying health condition and needs prompt assessment and management
- When babies are born prematurely, before the 37th week of pregnancy, then approximately 80% of babies develop jaundice.
However, only around 1 in 20 babies has a jaundice level that is high enough to need treatment. The majority of newborn babies will just need closer observation and monitoring of their jaundice level. Mother’s may also require support to ensure their baby is feeding adequately, since jaundiced babies tend to be more sleepy and hence less interested in feeding.
Breastfeeding seems to increase the chance of jaundice occurring, for which the reasons are unclear. However, we know that the benefits for mum and baby of breastfeeding far outweigh any potential issues relating to jaundice.
I have recently purchased a Bilicare monitor. This machine accurately and painlessly measure the bilirubin level in the baby’s blood through the skin on their ear. This means that when I visit a newborn baby at home who has signs of jaundice I can assess the baby more efficiently and provide the appropriate care, referring to the hospital if necessary. Alongside this I am able to support with breastfeeding and provide information and reassurance to new parents.
Please take a look at the ‘Postnatal’ tab for more details about the provision of midwifery care after the birth of your baby.