We check with Dr Lee Le Ye, consultant, Department of Neonatology, National University Hospitalon newborn jaundice.
WORDS JOANNA ONG
What it is
Newborn jaundice is common amongst babies and up to 30 per cent of all newborns (1 in 3) may require treatment. It is caused by excess bilirubin in the bloodstream. Bilirubin is the substance that causes yellowing of the skin and eyes. When the liver is not completely developed, it does not function properly, which results in hyperbilirubinemia (excess of bilirubin).
This is commonly seen with the yellowing of the eyes, the face and rest of the body as the jaundice severity increases. In severe untreated cases, the child can have feeding difficulties, fits and die.
Treatment (and ways to help them recover faster)
The managing doctors can screen for jaundice by looking at the babies’ colour. Alternatively, in some hospitals, the non-invasive testing with bilirubinometer is used. This will provide an estimate of the bilirubin pigments in the blood. A blood test is needed to confirm the diagnosis for those who need treatment. The cause of jaundice is investigated and treatment will involve phototherapy with blue light or exchange transfusion if the jaundice is very severe.
When to see the doctor/ bring to A&E
Jaundice should resolve by the second week of the baby’s life. The babies’ stools should change from blackish green to yellow in colour and if this changes to pale colour, parents should inform their doctors immediately.
Parents should enquire prior to discharge from the hospital if the baby requires treatment with the blue phototherapy light.
If so, you can help to prevent it from worsening by feeding the baby regularly and frequently
so that the baby will be able to excrete jaundice through their urine and faeces.
For babies with glucose 6-phosphate dehydrogenase deficiency (G6PD), parents should avoid exposure to mothballs and taking traditional herbs or medicines without consulting doctors. If the baby is not jaundiced prior to discharge, you should continue to feed regularly and monitor the child’s appearance. If you are unsure, do get an evaluation at the polyclinic or with a paediatrician within the first week.