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“Your baby is jaundiced.” I was surprised just how scary those words were, especially considering how they were delivered. There I was, rolling away in the wheelchair new mommas are required to leave the hospital in. (As if we’re invalids – when the truth is, nobody can perform the superhuman feats of postpartum baby care like a new momma. And I mean, NOBODY. )
I was literally going out the door of the maternity ward when the nurse dropped that little bomb on me.
What do I do with that info? How did it happen? Did I do something wrong? How do I fix it?
The nurse just smiled at my panicked reaction as she disappeared from view and called out “It’s alright, honey. It happens to a lot of babies. Just put him in the sun.”
Well, that’s helpful. Now I have more questions! Like, does light from a window count – or should he be in direct, blazing sunlight? Should I put sunscreen on him, or count it all as sunny goodness? Is he too young for sunscreen? What if he gets a sunburn?
How can I tell if it’s working? How long should I keep doing this before I say it’s not working and call the doctor? Wait, can this kill him?
I know from previous tanning bed experience that different people can handle different amounts of light. I burn at 3 minutes in a tanning bed… it’s the curse of the Irish. So how much sunlight is too much for a part-Irish newborn? 30 seconds? Is that enough to cure jaundice?
You might say I was neurotic. First-Time Mom Syndrome, right here. ?♀️ Fortunately, my little guy survived in spite of his neurotic momma.
What is jaundice?
While the word jaundice may be scary, in most cases it’s really not very worrisome and it’s easily treatable. Jaundice is the yellowish coloring of body tissues, especially eyes and skin, that’s caused by the build-up of bile pigments in the body.
For newborns, that starts just a few days after birth. So it’s not just your imagination if your new baby’s face and eyes start to look yellow. Most of the time, it isn’t anything to be concerned about. It lasts about a week and often clears up on its own.
What causes jaundice in newborns?
Jaundice is caused by the buildup of bilirubin, which is the bile pigment I mentioned above.
Bilirubin is an enzyme made up of normal broken-down blood cells. Ideally, it’s filtered out of the body by the liver. When bilirubin is high, it shows up in the skin, causing that yellow look which is most noticeable in the face and eyes.
Newborns are most susceptible to jaundice because their body systems are just beginning to work. It can take a few days for their liver to “catch up” to the workload of processing out the bilirubin.
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That’s not to say that their liver isn’t working right, only that in the first few days, it often has more work than it knows what to do with. Like your first day back to work after vacation.
Given just a bit of time, that little liver will get its backlog all caught up and plow through bilirubin like a pro. Then bye-bye, yellow skin!
How to treat jaundice
Most of the time, jaundice in newborns will clear up on its own. But sometimes it doesn’t. And although I told you it isn’t usually worrisome, it can get serious, even life-threatening.
So if your baby is starting to look a little yellow or orangey, don’t wait around to see what happens. There are some things you can start right now to help your baby’s body filter out the excess bilirubin and get her normal, beautiful skin tone back.
Frequent breastfeeding helps clear it up
Feeding a jaundiced baby frequently will help her overcome it quickly. With more feedings, her liver and bowels will work more and excrete the built-up bilirubin faster.
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Offer your baby the breast every hour and a half to two hours. Not permanently, of course. That’s too much. Not to mention it’s a brutal schedule to keep up! Just feed her almost constantly for the next few days until the yellowy-orange look subsides.
Using sunlight to cure jaundice
Sunlight has been the go-to jaundice treatment for ages! Remember the nurse calling out to put my yellow baby in the sun? And all the questions that followed…
Well, I followed her advice – after a lot of research, of course. Out in the sun he went, and he was looking normal again in just a couple of days!
The safest and best way to use sunlight to cure jaundice is to have a baby in indirect sunlight 3 or 4 times a day for about 15 minutes each time. You’ll probably only have to do this for about 3 days, but don’t be worried if it takes a little longer.
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If you don’t see improvement within 5 days, call the pediatrician. She might suggest a different approach, or ask you to bring your lemony little love in for a checkup.
Biliblankets are a safe treatment
Biliblankets can be provided by a hospital or doctor’s office. Hey, they may even be covered by insurance. However, a lot of doctors only consider a
Since most cases of jaundice clear up on their own, just a little extra help from parents is usually all it takes to make it go away quickly. But if you want to try the
Sun safety tips
Sunshine is amazing, rejuvenating, healing… and dangerous.
Please be very, very, very careful using the sun to clear up jaundice in a newborn.
I’m sure I don’t have to tell you this, but humor me here. A little sunshine is good – a lot of
- Only put your baby in indirect sunlight – such as a shaded area outside, a stroller with the sun cover pulled down, in front of a bright (but not sunny) window.
- Even indirect light can get to be too much for a newborn. Limit her time to about 15 minutes, 3 or 4 times a day.
- Direct sunlight can burn a baby. If it’s unavoidable, use a hat and blanket to keep her covered.
- Don’t put sunscreen on a newborn (To be useful, sunscreen needs to go everywhere. But I guarantee she’ll touch her face and put her fist in her mouth. You don’t want a newborn eating sunscreen!)
Jaundice is very, very common in newborns. Some babies just have more bilirubin than their livers can handle for a bit. While jaundice can be serious, it usually isn’t a big issue.
If at any point you feel worried, you think that something serious may be wrong, or your baby isn’t acting right, please call your pediatrician right away!
When you notice your bundle of joy is starting to look a little bit yellow or orange-ish, take action quickly to give their body the extra oomph! it needs to get back to normal.
By nursing or offering a bottle about every hour and a half, giving her 15 minutes of indirect sunlight 3 or 4 times a day, and perhaps requesting a