Proper postpartum treatment – If the skin and eyes show a slightly yellowish tone in the first few days after birth, it is neonatal jaundice, which affects around 60 percent of healthy babies and is not worrying.
How does jaundice affect newborns?
In premature babies, around 80 percent are affected by neonatal jaundice. In comparison with jaundice, which is based on hepatitis and is caused by a virus (hepatitis A), jaundice in newborns is in most cases harmless.
But how does this form of jaundice come about? Healthy babies are born with a high number of red blood cells. The superfluous blood cells, which are no longer needed, disintegrate and release the bile pigment bilirubin as a waste product. However, this dye cannot be processed so quickly by the newborn’s liver. The result is the yellowish color of the baby’s skin and eyeballs.
This degradation process is often completed in 10 to 14 days, and the baby’s natural complexion returns. If you want to be sure, a blood test can detect the bilirubin concentration. If an individual limit is exceeded, the infants are treated with special light therapy. Otherwise, the bilirubin can go into the brain and damage certain areas of the brain.
Therapy for neonatal jaundice
A proven treatment for neonatal jaundice is the so-called phototherapy, in which babies are irradiated with a blue light. The infants are only clothed with a diaper and placed in an incubator protected by an eye mask. The dye bilirubin is split by the blue light and can be excreted by the body via the urine. This light therapy usually lasts one to two days.
However, if the bilirubin levels are particularly high, in rare cases a blood exchange is necessary. This is the case, for example, when there is a rhesus factor incompatibility between the baby and the mother.
If the bilirubin concentration is below the threshold, no light therapy is necessary. However, parents can still do something to aid the breakdown of the dye bilirubin: frequent and regular breastfeeding stimulates the neonatal intestinal activity. This promotes the excretion of bilirubin. Many midwives advise young mothers to take their baby for a walk. Because also a lot of light supports the degradation of bilirubin. However, direct sunlight should be avoided at all costs. If it’s too cold for a walk, the cradle or stroller can be placed right in front of a bright, closed window.
Are there complications?
Newborn jaundice is harmless in most cases, and there is no need for concern for the parents. However, if the bile pigment is present in very high amounts in the blood, or if neonatal jaundice is recognized very late, the bilirubin may be deposited in the brain (kernicterus).
Fatigue, low activity and little thirst may be the first signs in the infant. But shrill cries, shortness of breath and cramps can also be symptoms of kernicterus. The long-term consequences include, for example, visual and hearing disorders as well as disorders in mental development.
- Around 60 percent of healthy newborns are affected
- Symptoms: Yellowish skin tone, yellowing of the eye
- After about two weeks, the skin has its standard color
- Light therapy has proven itself as a treatment
- Also, frequent breastfeeding helps
- Infrequent complications: developmental mental disorders