Jaundice is a yellowish color of the skin and eyes. It occurs when a newborn baby has too much bilirubin in his or her blood. Bilirubin accumulation results when the body breaks down old red blood cells. Almost all newborns have some degree of jaundice, but less than one-third of them require treatment.
“In most cases, newborns have what is called physiologic jaundice, which means their liver is not yet mature enough to eliminate the excess bilirubin,” says Karlyle K. Christian-Ritter, MD, FAAP, neonatologist, Saint Francis Medical Partner. “Some newborns have pathologic jaundice, which means it is caused by another factor such as red blood cell disease or liver disease.”
The first line of treatment for jaundice is good hydration, particularly with breast milk. If a baby is well hydrated and still has high bilirubin levels, doctors will use phototherapy, or “light therapy,” and in extreme cases, exchange transfusion.
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