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Explaining jaundice and why it requires special care in infants

Jaundice is common in newborns, but some are more vulnerable to it than others. In some cases, jaundice is not serious and doesn’t require any special treatment, but when jaundice is severe, treatment is necessary. Treatment for jaundice, when needed, starts soon after labor and delivery.

What is jaundice?
Jaundice is a yellowing of the skin and eyes that occurs as the result of excess levels of bilirubin in the blood. Bilirubin is produced by the body when red blood cells are renewed, and it has a yellow appearance that causes the look of jaundice.

Bilirubin is typically metabolized in the liver, so that it can be expelled from the body via stools. Before babies are born, the placenta removes bilirubin, but after birth, the liver must begin performing the function. Because the liver may take some time to work effectively, jaundice occurs.

What causes severe jaundice?
Although nearly every newborn has some form of jaundice, it is more likely to be severe in these cases:

  • Rh incompatibility between the baby and the mother
  • Babies born with sickle cell anemia
  • Low oxygen levels at birth
  • Infections at birth
  • Diseases of the liver, such as hepatitis
  • Premature birth

These are just a few of the causes of severe jaundice in newborns. Genetic disorders, medications, and difficult deliveries can also play roles.

When is treatment for jaundice necessary?
Most babies will not need treatment for jaundice, as explained in the video. However, if the levels of bilirubin in the blood are excessively high or increasing rapidly, treatment is necessary. Premature babies need treatment more often than babies who reach full term.

Treatments for jaundice include:

  • Phototherapy – Babies are placed under blue lights that help to break down bilirubin.
  • IV fluids.
  • Blood exchange transfusion – This treatment is only necessary in the most severe cases. Babies receive fresh blood with normal bilirubin levels.

In the maternity departments in San Jose of Good Samaritan Hospital, our labor and delivery team is committed to helping every new baby have the healthiest possible start in life. Contact us today at (888) 724-2362 to set up a tour of the birthing center, learn more about our childbirth classes, or get a referral to one of our physicians.