Jaundice that begins in the first 24hours of life can rise to a dangerous level, but it is important to always get medical help early, regardless of when jaundice starts.
The mother can carry out a quick test for jaundice. She can press her fingers on the baby’s nose or forehead. If there is a yellow tinge to the skin as the pressure is released, the doctor should be consulted. She should also check for yellowness in the whites of the eyes or gums.
Most cases of jaundice clear up on their own in a week or two weeks. If the mother is breastfeeding, feeding frequently will help clear jaundice. There is no need to give formula milk or water.
Jaundice may be the result of another health problem. This is sometimes called pathological jaundice. Some causes of pathological jaundice include:
- Hypothyroidism – when the thyroid gland does not produce enough hormones.
- Blood group incompatibility – when the mother and baby have different blood types.
- Rhesus factor disease – a condition that can occur if the mother has rhesus-negative blood and the baby has rhesus-positive blood
- Urinary tract infection
- Crigler – Najjar syndrome– an inherited condition that affects the enzyme responsible for processing bilirubin
Significant jaundice is often treated with phototherapy where the baby is placed beneath special lights. The light changes bilirubin into lumirubin, which is easily handled by the baby’s body. The age of the child and the level of bilirubin are the factors which help decide whether or not to start phototherapy. The decision to begin phototherapy depends on the opinion of the paediatrician.