After you’ve had your baby, you’ll probably be extremely sensitive to any changes in his or her appearance or behavior. Like all new moms, you’ll constantly be checking in to make sure your baby is healthy after you’ve left the hospital. It is perfectly normal to feel like a worrywart in these first few weeks of motherhood, and in many cases it’s better to be safe than sorry. As long as you aren’t worrying yourself sick, checking in with your doctor about certain symptoms or behaviors is a good way for you to learn what’s normal and what isn’t. Jaundice is one common symptom in newborns that new moms get worried about. Caution is good, but jaundice can often occur when there is nothing medically wrong with your baby at all.
Jaundice is a yellowing of the skin. The yellow coloration will also be noticeable in the whites of the eyes. The discoloration is caused by a build-up of bilirubin in the blood. Bilirubin is normally broken down and excreted through the liver, but this process could be hindered in newborns for a number of reasons. There are a few rare problems associated with a mother’s breast milk that could cause jaundice, but these are only seen in 2% of newborns. Jaundice can also be caused by a problem with the Rh proteins in the blood, but your doctor will have already tested you for this problem. If there are no other known problems, it’s more likely that your baby’s jaundice is simply a symptom of his or her liver not yet being fully developed. Since newborns are developing rapidly, they are producing more bilirubin than adults and their livers are too underdeveloped to handle the production.
If you did not notice your baby’s jaundice when you left the hospital, your doctor will need to perform tests to determine how much bilirubin is in your baby’s blood. Too much can cause serous problems. As long as the jaundice is not a symptom of a more serious condition, your doctor will simply check in after a week or so has passed to make sure the levels are dropping as the liver is developing more. Only if your baby’s bilirubin levels are dangerously high will your doctor recommend treatment.
Always contact your doctor if you’re concerned about your baby’s health, but rest assured that jaundice is often a harmless symptom in newborns.
Source: D Bratlid et al: National Guidelines for Treatment of Jaundice in the Newborn. Acta Pediatrica Volume 100 Issue 4 pp. 499-505 April 2011