Jaundice is usually diagnosed by physical examination. The doctor may gently press your baby’s skin to observe the coloring when the skin blanches. A specific diagnosis can be made by measuring bilirubin levels with a blood test. If you have already brought your baby home from the hospital, call your baby’s doctor immediately if you notice your baby’s arms or legs are jaundiced, he or she develops a fever above 100 degrees F (37.8 degrees C), or if he or she begins acting sick or listless. You should also call your doctor if the jaundice deepens after day 7, is not gone by day 15, or if your baby is not gaining sufficient weight.
Most cases of mild jaundice will subside on their own without special treatment. In these cases, feed your baby as frequently as possible to cause more bowel movements, which helps to remove the bilirubin from the body. Pathologic jaundice, on the other hand, is usually treated using phototherapy. This uses high intensity light of the right wavelength to convert the bilirubin pigment to a safer form that is easily removed from the body and does not build up to toxic levels. If severe jaundice develops because of blood type differences between you and your baby, intravenous immunoglobulin (IVIg) may be administered, which gives the baby an intravenous transfusion of antibodies. In extremely rare cases, your baby may need an exchange transfusion of blood which means small amounts of blood are repeatedly withdrawn, the bilirubin and maternal antibodies are “diluted out,” and the blood is transferred back to the baby.
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