Newborns and Jaundice: Fear not!

Having a new baby is a wonderful, but scary, journey. There can be many bumps in the road and, when you’re a new Mom, they can feel overwhelming. As a Fort HealthCare patient, we work to minimize this by monitoring your baby closely.

One of the things our staff watch for is jaundice. Often noticed as the yellowing of your infant’s skin, this occurs when there is a build-up of the pigment called bilirubin [Pronounced BILLY-rue-bin] in your infant’s blood. Most babies have jaundice to some extent and this causes no problem, but if the level rises too high it can damage the brain. Because of this, your pediatrician or nurse will check your infant’s bilirubin level 24 hours after birth or if any yellowing is noted. Don’t worry!  We will never let it rise to an unhealthy level, and will treat jaundice at fairly low levels to prevent medical

Newborn in her portable Bili Bed

Newborn enjoying her pain-free therapy for jaundice.

Bilirubin is a pigment in hemoglobin, the oxygen carrying part of red blood cells. Before your baby is born, he or she has extra fetal hemoglobin to grab as much oxygen as it can. However, once your baby is delivered and can breathe air, all of these fetal red blood cells are not needed and your baby starts to break them down. Baby’s liver will help rid the
body of this excess by mixing it with bile and depositing it in the intestines to be expelled through bowel movements. In some cases though, the baby is overwhelmed with bilirubin.

Sleeping comfortably in a portable Bili Bed

Sleeping comfortably in her portable Bili Bed, this baby is ready to head home.

Some of the causes of these higher levels are:

Prematurity: Babies born before 40 weeks may have immature livers that are unable to efficiently bind the hemoglobin for removal.

Difficult deliveries:  If your baby’s head is bruised by forceps or a vacuum-assisted delivery, there will be more red blood cells for the liver to get rid of.

Incompatible blood types or factors. This can set off an antigen-antibody reaction and the increased break down of red blood cells.

Difficulty getting enough food, due to prematurity, illness or difficulty with breastfeeding. Infants in this category may have delayed or decreased stooling. Remember: Bilirubin is deposited in the intestines and your baby removes it through bowel movements.

Newborn having photo therapy in the hospital

Newborn having photo therapy in the Fort HealthCare Great Expectations Birthing Center.

So how do we treat this? 

  • Photo therapy. This is a fancy was of saying “light therapy.”  By exposing your baby to a specific frequency of light waves, we can break the bilirubin molecule down small enough, that it can pass through the kidneys. Some babies will be sent home with a portable Bili Bed for treatment, others may need to be in the hospital for a short time.
  • Increasing your baby’s oral intake (a.k.a. feedings.)  It is important you feed your infant 8-12 times a day. Breast milk will make your infant stool more often, thereby removing the bilirubin more rapidly.

Having a baby with jaundice can be frustrating. You will have to return for frequent weight and bilirubin checks. If your baby needs treatment, he or she will have to stay on a “Bili bed” and cannot be cuddled like you want, but remember, this is short term and we will help you every step of the way.

To learn more about lactation or how the Fort HealthCare Great Expectations Birthing Center helps deliver happy, healthy babies, visit

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18 Responses to Newborns and Jaundice: Fear not!

  1. Emma says:

    What a cutie! it breaks my heart to see him with all his IV and under the light therapy. My lo had jaundice as well. He did not latch for the first week and my heart was destroyed with the idea of me not providing the basic need for my baby (also combined with crazy hormones, I bawled so much during that time). I have had lots of ups and downs with breastfeeding still and have been doing it for 4.5 months now. I have dealt with bad latch, mastitis, plugged ducts, thrush and milk blisters and another infection. What keeps me going is knowing that my lo is doing well on breastmilk. I wanted to give up so many times and none of my friends had challenges with breastfeeding. I had never heard of the struggles that may come with breastfeeding. I know some people don’t want to tell there negative experiences, but until I knew that others went through what I went through, it really made me feel like I was doing something wrong as a mom. I think its important to share all experiences good and bad. I cant wait to see updated pics and to read the rest of your experience.

    • admin says:

      Rest assured, the LO modeling in these pictures is doing FABULOUSLY these days! She’s a happy, healthy 1.5 month old keeping her busy parents on their toes every day!

      • Alexandra says:

        Aly had jaundice and udnwreent UV photolight therapy as well. She was placed in a light unit with a bili-blanket that she kept kicking off cause I’m sure it wasn’t all that comfortable. We had a different style of mask but it also didn’t stay/fit well on her face so we kept having to adjust it. So frustrating.Because her weight dropped more than the normal 10% after birth, it took an additional 2 weeks of visits (after discharge) before she gained back enough weight and was declared out of the danger zone. It was our first welcome to parenthood and the lifetime of worry episode.

      • Jason says:

        Wow! Thanks for sharing your sritoes. I have 7 children. Twins by c-section, who weighed 7# 10 oz. and 8# 10oz. All the rest were over 10# and two of them weighed 11# and 12# and were both shoulder dystocias. My 11 pounder(who is now 9 years old) was very purple at birth and I suspect that his birth caused some slight learning disabilities due to the oxygen deprivation. (He was stuck for 5 minutes.)He also struggled with some speech impediments whan he was younger.My 12 pounder, who is two and a half now, had his humerous broken by the doctor during birth. His mental abilities seem to be perfect (although I will know better when I begin teaching him to read.)I only had one labor where there were no complications. I wanted home deliveries for all of them, but one of my twins was breech, thus the c-section. And out of the remaining 5 I had to transport to the hospital during labor twice. God, in His goodness, allowed me to deliver at home with 3 of my babies and their births were so special, even though 2 were very frightening shoulder dystocia deliveries.My husband feels that we should have as many children as the Lord gives us but I am terrified as each pregnancy got more difficult and each baby got bigger. I also suffered with depression during my last pregnancy because I was so fearful of another shoulder dystocia delivery and a damaged or dead baby. I know I need to leave all these things in God’s hands, but it seems as though He hasn’t yet given me the grace to do so. I have thought that if I conceived again I would opt for a c-section but I struggle with that because I feel as though I would be placing my confidence in man instead of trusting God for the safe delivery of my child. I would love to read your insights on this subject. (I don’t like it when people ask me this question but I have to ask you )Are you going to have more children considering your history and complications?[] Reply:August 24th, 2011 at 6:45 amHi Abbi.Of course whether or not we have more children is in the Lord’s hands. Our last baby wasborn via c-section because of these complications, but we would be delighted if God were to send us more blessings. Praise the Lord for doctors and hospitals who are equipped to perform c-sections.[]

    • Andrey says:

      wow. i can’t believe they made you guys take him to the hoiaptsl for treatment.. micah’s levels spiked to 18ish when we brought her home and our pediatrician set us up with company that rented us a portable phototherapy machine for a copay of about 25 bucks a day.i supplemented with formula to have her pee and poop a lot and had her sleep on the machine for 2 was pretty annoying having to go to see the pediatrician 3 days in a row and having them prick her heel, but was a relief when her levels dropped.if your baby girl has jaundice too, maybe you can look into renting a machine?

    • Shahed says:

      I found your blog only recently and I am enniyojg it so much. I am truly enniyojg the birth stories you are sharing. As traumatic as they sound, they are also so amazing and miraculous! What beautiful, precious stories! I had to comment this time simply because my first three babies were born in a similar time frame as yours were- I had a 2yo, 16mo, and newborn as well.All the best with this sweet new baby!Melissa PS- My 5th baby was born by emergency c-section. I didn’t feel like I missed out on anything (as I’ve heard some c/s moms do). Instead I felt so thankful for the method of delivery that saved my baby’s life. The recovery was more difficult, but I DID recover completely. My point is that a c-section delivery can be just as beautiful as a traditional birth. I am sure the story of this new baby’s birth will be just as incredible and miraculous as the others all were. []

  2. Saeed says:

    when charlie had jaundice, they told us we had to supplement with formula. no one told me that I could and should pump! luckily i pumped while charlie was getting photo therapy treatment, or i probably would have ended up with a severely diminished milk supply.i can’t imagine how hard it must have been for you to see them trying and failing to get blood from sam. the doctors had a lot of trouble getting an iv into charlie, and that broke my heart! your exrepience sounds so much worse! and you’ve reminded me that i totally want to get a picture of me nursing olive. :)

    • Sauda says:

      Max had jaundice, toguhh he never had to go under the lights. We just had to keep him in sunlight. The pediatrician at the hospital suggested we supplement with formula but we just did pumped milk instead. The worst part was having to bring him back into the lab multiple times to get blood taken for testing. Even toguhh I knew lots of Asian babies who had jaundice, it was still really scary and stressful to have to deal with in those first few days.

    • Kailash says:

      technically yes, but if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Since I’m perfectly okay with her waikng up at those times, I’m not going to have her cry it out because it’s not worth it to us.Oh and I use the Baby Whisperer’s EASY routine (eat-activity-sleep-you time). Used it for my first DD and now my 2nd. it works great for us. We don’t have a set schedule, but because of EASY I can estimate a nap or a feeding time.

    • Joe says:

      Our 2 month old goes down at 9pm and up arnoud 6:30/7. He wakes arnoud 2am for a feeding (which my husband does) and then I take him arnoud 5am when he gets fussy and we’ll snuggle until it’s “get up” time. That way we each get some sleep (me: 11-5ish, Him, 2:30-8:30) that’s a big chunk.

    • admin says:

      Good for you with sticking with BFing!

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