What is Jaundice?

I didn’t tell my friends about this, but Reese was hospitalized a week after her birth. :(  Exactly a week after her birth, we took her to the hospital for her first check-up with her pedia.  We went there with no reason to be concerned because everything seemed to be okay.

Imagine my surprise when as soon as the pedia saw her, she said that our daughter is a little yellow.  Wow, that’s a curve ball that I didn’t expect.  No one among us noticed and a lot of people saw Reese that week.  But apparently, it was obvious to the pedia’s trained eye.  She said that our daughter is suffering from a very common illness – jaundice in newborns.

Disclaimer: I am not a medical professional.  Information on this post is based on research and personal experiences only.  This is for informational purposes only and is not meant to be taken as a medical advice.  All in all, my advice is to consult a medical professional for more accurate information.

What is Jaundice?

 

Jaundice is the yellowing of the skin that affects both kids and adults.  It can also affect the whites of the eyes.  For adults, it’s usually a symptom of hepatitis or liver cancer.

Jaundice in Newborns

Unfortunately, it also affects newborns.  For newborns, it’s usually caused by hyperbilirubinemia which means that there’s an increased level of bilirubin in the blood.  The yellowing usually starts at the head (together with the whites of the eyes) and will spread down to the baby’s toes.

How to Detect Jaundice

Lightly press on your baby’s skin.  After letting go, check the color of the area of the skin that you pressed.  If the color is yellowish, there’s a good chance that your baby has jaundice.  Take your baby to the pedia immediately.

Risks of Jaundice

According to Reese’s pedia, the bilirubin can spread to the baby’s brain, causing brain damage.  This happens when the bilirubin is extremely high (above 20) and nothing is done to lower it.  The risks are dependent on the type of jaundice that your baby has.

Types of Jaundice

These are the most common types of jaundice:

  • Physiological

This is the most common type of jaundice and is apparently normal.  This is caused by an immature liver, something that most babies have.  With an immature liver, our baby couldn’t process the bilirubin quickly so some of it is stored in the body.  This is usually not detected at the hospital because it usually appears between the 2nd and 4th day after birth.  Generally speaking, it disappears after one to two weeks.

  • Prematurity

Jaundice is also very common in premature babies.  Obviously, the baby’s body is not yet prepared to process the bilirubin so it leads to the yellowing of the skin.

  • Breastfeeding

Yes, breastfeeding can also cause jaundice.  This usually happens when the mother is not processing enough milk so the baby is not getting enough.  Bilirubin is excreted through urine and feces.  So if your baby is not eating enough, she won’t be excreting that much.  There are also rare cases wherein the breast milk itself is causing the jaundice.  You may need to supplement your breastfeeding with formula.

  • Blood group incompatibility

We initially thought that Reese’s condition is due to blood group incompatibility.  I’m blood type A and Aisha is blood type O.  Apparently, this can cause a lot of problems if Reese got my blood type.  If that happened, Aisha’s body would have produced antibodies that would have battled with Reese’s red blood cells, causing high bilirubin levels.  Reese would have needed a blood transfusion if this was the case.  Fortunately, a blood test confirmed that Reese got her mom’s blood type O.  Whew!

What to Do?

As soon as you notice yellowing in your baby’s skin, it’s best to take her to the doctor IMMEDIATELY.  The doctor can do the necessary tests to determine the bilirubin level in your baby and she can take it from there.  Make sure to have the answers to these questions because they’re very important:

  1. When did you first notice the yellowing?
  2. Is the yellowing getting worse or better?
  3. Is your baby getting enough healthy sunlight?
  4. How is your baby’s feeding/excreting habits?
  5. Did your baby develop a fever?
  6. Was your baby ever listless?

Reese’s Story

I can see in the face of the pedia that she was trying to decide if she’s going to admit Reese to the hospital or not.  She also told me that there’s a good chance that it will go away on her own because her jaundice is not that bad.  But I’m not one to leave things to chance especially with Reese.  So I told the pedia to have her admitted.

I carried her to the emergency room, saying sorry to her in the process for whatever shortcomings I might have had.  I couldn’t stop myself from crying when the nurse prepared her for the dextrose and when she took some of her blood for testing.  Reese let out a cry that broke my heart into a million pieces.  But after a few seconds, Reese settled down and took it like a soldier.  I can see her trying to stifle her cries while letting out short breaths as if she’s trying to be brave about it.  What a brave little girl, my Reese.

She was admitted to a room and the nurses on the floor were surprised to see Ms. Pinky – her nickname as given by the nurses because she’s always wearing pink.  I did a quick scan of their faces to see if they’re worried at all.  They’re not worried at all so that was a source of comfort.

phototherapy for jaundice

A Baby (Not Reese!) Undergoing Phototherapy for Jaundice

Treatment is called phototherapy for jaundice.  It’s the treatment done to kill off excess bilirubin.  It’s also called light therapy because that’s what it is.  Reese was placed naked (except for a diaper and something to cover her eyes) under special lights (or bili lights) for a couple of days.  We had to watch her 24/7 and we alternated shifts.  I wanted to make sure that her eyes’ cover wouldn’t come off because I didn’t want her beautiful eyes to be exposed.  It didn’t help that the ever so active Reese kept on removing the cover.  She even developed this strategy of raising her eyebrows in order for her eyes to break free from the cover.

Note: Some hospitals, especially in the US, can rent out the phototherapy machine so you can conduct the treatment at home.  Some hospitals also have bili blankets that can help with treatment.  So make sure to ask the doctor if you prefer home treatment.

So the blood test confirmed that it’s not blood incompatibility and that it’s just physiological jaundice and that it would have gone better on its own without treatment.  Thank, God!  Her bilirubin level is not that high at 16 and after a day of treatment, it was obvious to the doctor that the level improved.  So she was given her discharge orders the following day with instructions to continue exposing Reese to healthy sunlight.

After a week, we went back to the pedia for a follow-up.  I was concerned because Reese didn’t get a lot of sunlight because of Pedring.  But according to the pedia, her color is now normal.

What is jaundice?  For us parents, it’s always a reason for concern.  This is why it’s important that you take your baby to the pedia as soon as symptoms show up.  With proper treatment, it can go away.

Photo from chimothy27

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4 Responses to What is Jaundice?

  1. Ces

    =( I hope she gets better soon..

    • Jayz

      Hi Ces! Yes, she’s okay now!

  2. mariaMasungit

    Hello there! I am one of your wife’s “kachicka” in GT. Jaundice is actually more prevalent for CS born babies because they stay longer in the hospital without sunlight. And I know you stayed even longer because of sis Aisha’s condition. Malala na siguro condition ni Reese coz when we brought baby awie for check up to her pedia, she also had jaundice but doctor said it can still be cured with 3 days exposure to sunlight, so she did not prescribe any meds.
    Hope everything will be okay now

  3. Jayz

    Hi there!

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts! Actually, her jaundice wasn’t that bad. It was partly my decision to have her put under bili lights because of the bad weather. There was no chance for me to expose her to sunlight.

    In addition, there’s also the issue of blood incompatibility since Aisha and I have different blood types. So tests had to be done to make sure that it wasn’t causing the jaundice. So while tests are being done, she was put under the lights.

    But she’s okay now! :)

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