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Jaundice is characterized by yellowish skin or a yellowish tint to the whites of the eyes. It affects more than half of babies and is considered normal if it occurs 2 or 3 days after birth and goes away within 10 days. In this case it is referred to as "physiologic jaundice."

CAUSE

Jaundice occurs when there is a build up of bilirubin in the body. Bilirubin is a yellow pigment created by the breakdown of red blood cells. Newborns have a much greater prevalence of jaundice because the liver enzyme that breaks down bilirubin is underdeveloped. Additionally, newborns have more red blood cells than adults.

HIGHER INCIDENCE

Babies which have a higher incidence of jaundice are premature babies, babies with difficult births, and babies born to diabetic mothers.

TREATMENT

Jaundice can be dangerous if the levels of bilirubin get too high because it can be toxic to the brain. However, such levels are rare. In most cases the jaundice will go away with more frequent feedings. This increases the opportunity for the bilirubin to be passed out of the body. In some cases phototherapy is needed in which a fluorescent light is used to help the baby's body break down the bilirubin. In very rare cases a treatment to the blood is required to remove bilirubin.

SPECIAL TYPES OF JAUNDICE

Breastmilk Jaundice

Breastmilk jaundice occurs in babies over a weeks old and is thought to be normal. It generally peaks at 10 to 21 days and can last for 2 to 3 months. With this type of jaundice the baby is gaining weight and having lots of bowel movements. This is not a reason to discontinue breastfeeding.

Not-enough-breastmilk Jaundice

This occurs when the baby is not getting enough breast milk for some reason. As a result the baby is not having enough bowel movements to rid the body of bilirubin. When this happens, the baby should be fed more frequently and problems with breastfeeding should be addressed to ensure the baby can get enough milk.

Jaundice Due to Conjugated Bilirubin

This is an abnormal type of jaundice in which either the tubes that carry bilirubin to the gut are blocked or the liver is functioning poorly. Brown urine is a sign of this type of jaundice. This is often a serious condition, and medical advice should be sought immediately is you suspect the jaundice is due to conjugated bilirubin.