J is for Jaundice

We are celebrating our Montreal prenatal class with the ABCs of prenatal classes. From A to Z let’s cover common prenatal terms, J is for Jaundice, and what you can learn about them from our classes.

Babies go through some wild changes once they are on the outside. One of the things that happens is that they start to breakdown their red blood cells and create new ones using adult hemoglobin. (It’s true, babies really do grow up fast!)

Bilirubin is a by-product of breaking down those blood cells and it can cause the yellowing of the skin known as jaundice. Jaundice is often visible on baby’s face and in the hospital babies are frequently tested before they are discharged.

Newborns have two things that make them more susceptible to jaundice: a higher turnover of red blood cells (thus more bilirubin) AND their livers are slower at clearing out bilirubin. Unsurprisingly then, up to 60% of newborns will develop jaundice, generally beginning on the second to fourth day after birth, and it’s often a normal physiological part of newborn life. This means not all jaundice needs treatment. Hurrah!

However, there can be more serious causes of jaundice and very high levels of bilirubin are problematic, so care providers and parents want to keep an eye on it. The timing, duration and intensity of jaundice as well as baby’s well-being give care providers insight into when it is normal and when treatment or further investigation is required.

What is the best thing for jaundice?

Pooping and peeing! Well, clearing the body of bilirubin which is done through baby’s output.

Feeding problems can make jaundice worse, or take longer to resolve. A way to prevent, or at least decrease the level of jaundice, is to make sure baby is getting enough milk. Colostrum, the first breast milk produced, has a laxative effect that encourages things to move along the digestive tract. This helps baby clear out bilirubin from their system thus keeping levels down. Unfortunately, jaundice can make babies sleepy and harder to feed so it’s important to keep on top of feeding.

How is jaundice treated?

Most often the treatment is simply time. If levels of bilirubin are too high or something else is amiss, phototherapy may be recommended. Phototherapy is done by placing baby under blue lights to help speed up their body’s ability to clear bilirubin. Babies who receive phototherapy in hospitals usually get bathed in blue light in the room with their parent(s) and wearing awesome protective shades over their eyes.

What you will learn about jaundice in our prenatal class

How to get a good start with feeding

Jaundice, sleepiness and feeding

Interesting facts about jaundice

Breast milk jaundice is a form of jaundice that is only seen in breastfed babies. Curiously, we don’t have an answer for why it happens. Fortunately, if baby is drinking well and there are no other symptoms, breast milk jaundice is harmless. You should always talk with your care provider if jaundice appears.

Jaundice may be harder to identify in babies with darker skin tones but care providers can examine their inner lips and eyes as well by doing a bilirubin test.

Phototherapy works by adding oxygen to bilirubin so that it dissolves in water. Science is amazing!

Up next K is for…
Back to I is for Induction.

Learn more about our prenatal classes.

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