Common ailments

Neonatal jaundice

My 5 day old baby daughter seems to have developed a bit of jaundice. I’ve heard this is common in newborn babies so should I be worried about it and is there something I can do to help get rid of the jaundice?

Congratulations on the birth of your baby daughter.

Neonatal jaundice is a very common, temporary condition in newborn babies that causes yellowing of the skin and the whites of the eyes. This is due to a high build-up of a normal body chemical called bilirubin. A newborn’s immature liver can’t dispose of the excess bilirubin, so the excess settles in the skin, causing jaundice.

Whilst jaundice is usually a harmless condition in newborns which passes on its own within a couple of weeks, in a small number of cases it can be a sign of a more serious underlying condition. Your baby will probably have been examined for signs of jaundice within 72 hours of being born, but if she has developed jaundice since leaving the hospital then you should speak to your midwife, health visitor or GP as soon as possible. It is important that your baby is checked to see if she needs any treatment, particularly if she is showing any other signs of being unwell.

Treatment is usually only recommended if tests show a baby has very high levels of bilirubin in their blood. Light treatment (phototherapy) is a safe and effective treatment that uses light to treat jaundice by changing the excess bilirubin into harmless substances. If bilirubin levels become very high then a blood transfusion might become necessary to bring levels down more quickly.

If your baby’s jaundice is only slight then your midwife, or health visitor may advise that no treatment is required at all and the condition will just pass on its own. To help things along you could on a sunny day place your daughter with her skin exposed next to a closed window and let the rays of sunlight shine on her for around 15 minutes, 3-4 times a day. Sunlight dissolves bilirubin in the skin which can then be passed out of your baby’s system through her urine. Giving your baby plenty of fluids will also help her body to expel the excess bilirubin.

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