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Why is my baby yellow?

why is my baby yellow with newborn in protective eyewear for jaundice phototherapy in the background

Baby jaundice can be such a scary thing for new parents.
We associate it with old people and liver failure, and that’s terrifying.
Googling “my baby has jaundice” likely sends you into a panic after you read all the cases that turned out to be more than just a physiological occurence.
If you haven’t taken a newborn care class, it may ease your mind a bit to know what is actually happening with your little one.


What causes jaundice?

In utero, a baby’s liver breaks down red blood cells. As this happens a build up bilirubin is left behind. While pregnant, the pregnant persons body and placenta work to remove the bilirubin that is left behind. Once the baby is born, its own body responsible for disposing of the bilirubin. This is done by urinating and bowel movements.  This buildup of bilirubin can cause a distinct yellowing of the skin and eyes of a newborn.  The levels of bilirubin typically peak between 24 hours and day 5. In some cases jaundice can be caused by RH incompatibility or digestive system dysfunction.

What are the symptoms and how is it treated?

When a baby is considered jaundiced, it will likely be sleepy, cranky and their skin and eyes will have a yellow tint to them. Some babies will be jittery. The typical course of treatment is to use phototherapy or “bili” blankets or lights (some hospitals will even send them home with you!).
This helps to breakdown the bilirubin levels to facilitate the body to excrete.
Feeding the baby consistently and adequately (6-12 times in a 24 hour period) helps to speed along the process. In some cases of severe jaundice, blood transfusions may be needed. Following up with a pediatrician to have the jaundice levels checked as requested is the best course of action.

If baby jaundice still has you freaking out, we can help!

First things first, take a deep breath.

Kiss your baby.

Now, slow down. Take it a day at a time.

Feed your baby often, hold them close and you’ll be on the other side of this before you know it.  You’re doing a great job at this parenting thing!

For those moments when you feel like you aren’t, or you wanna talk to someone as you freak out over this- we offer postpartum doula services. We can be a listening ear, and offer you some encouraging words to help you past this.

authored by Erin Young

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