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A Jaundice Nightmare

On our way to Nova's first docs appointment

Jaundice is normal in newborns people say but it sure does not feel that way to a new mom. After taking Nova Blue home from the hospital I felt very confident that everything would be fine and that I had the hang of things. She was such a good baby I thought, she didn't cry much, only before feeding a little but after a few minutes she would feed just fine.

My hubby and I took Nova Blue to her 5 day check up and although we were so nervous to ride with her in the car for the first time, we managed to get there safe! Once there, our doctor ordered a blood test to check her Jaundice levels because she was a bit yellow, I couldn't see it but the doctor did.

Normal levels of Jaundice is under 5.2 mg/dL, when Nova was initially tested at the clinic she was at a 19.5 mg/dL but I was still oblivious of what the consequences of high jaundice were. By the time we got the final blood work it was night time and we were resting at home when we got a call from the pediatrician - our baby was at a 21.9 mg/dL and we were ordered to rush her to the hospital because of the risk of brain damage.

To receive this news as a first time mom and dad is devastating! My hubby was a mess, crying and praying as he drove us to the hospital. I had to be the strong one, riding in the back with my baby, holding back the tears and suppressing the feelings of guilt because I didn't catch it sooner.

Pediatric nurses were waiting for us with the light bed ready, they took Nova from my arms and put her under the light in a rush - I felt as if they took her and didn't even get the chance to hug or kiss her.

So there we were, with our 5 day old baby in a glass light bed unable to hug or kiss her. I finally broke down and sobbed like I'd never before had. I missed my baby so much, even though I could see her, my arms ached to have her against my chest and my hands just wanted to touch her. I was ridden with guilt and kept playing in my head everything 'wrong' I had done since she was born. Nurses helped me feel a little better as they explained what jaundice was and had me pumping as much as possible to bottle feed her.

If Nova Blue reached a 25 mg/dL jaundice level, she would need a blood cleanse (before it was considered a blood transfusion) and she was at risk of brain damage.

After 3 long sleepless days and nights and not being able to hold, smell or kiss my baby, she was finally able to go home. It had been the toughest days of our lives, one thing is to be sick yourself and another is to see your baby ill and not be able to help them. Today Nova is healthy, happy and I can hug and kiss her all I want.

As other moms knew we were at the hospital, I received so many messages telling me that jaundice was normal, but it wasn't normal to me and instead of being comforted, I felt irritated that other moms were undermining my feelings and playing down the gravity of what I felt was happening. I do understand that those moms were being encouraging and trying to comfort me but at the moment, all you see if gray.

What truly helped me deal with my feelings was to learn what jaundice was. If you are an expecting mom, I won't tell you everything will be fine if your baby also becomes jaundiced but I will share with you what I learned.


Q: What is Jaundice?

A: Jaundice is the yellow color seen in the skin of many newborns. It's called when a chemical called bilirubin builds up in the baby's blood and can occur in babies of any race or color.

Q: Why is Jaundice common in newborns?

A: Everyone's blood contains bilirubin, which is removed by the liver. Before birth, the mother' liver does this for the baby. Most babies develop jaundice in the first few days after birth because it takes a few days for the baby's liver to get better at removing the bilirubin.

Q: How can I tell if my baby has jaundice?

A: The best way to see jaundice is a good light, such as daylight or under florescent lights. Jaundice usually appears first in the face and then moves to the chest, abdomen, arms and legs as the bilirubin level increases. The whites of the eyes may also be yellow. Jaundice may be harder to see in babies with darker skin color.

Q: Can Jaundice hurt my baby?

A: Most infants have mild jaundice that is harmless, but in unusual situations the bilirubin level can get very high and might cause brain damage. This is why newborns should be checked carefully for jaundice and treated to prevent high levels.

Q: How should my baby be checked for jaundice?

A: If your baby looks jaundiced in the first few days after birth, your baby's doctor or nurse may use a skin test to check your baby's bilirubin level. A bilirubin level is always needed if jaundice develops before the baby is 24 hours old. Whether a test is needed after that depends on the baby's age, the amount of jaundice, and whether the baby has other factors that make jaundice more likely or harder to see.

Q: Does breastfeeding affect jaundice?

A: Jaundice is more common in babies that are not feeding well, whether breast or bottle feeding. If you are breastfeeding, you should nurse your baby every 2-3 hours at least 8 to 12 times a day for the first few days. This will help you produce enough milk and will help to keep the baby's bilirubin level down. If formula feeding, feed every 3-4 hours.

Q: When should my newborn get checked after leaving the hospital?

A: It is important for your baby to be seen by a nurse or doctor when the baby is between 3 and 5 days old, because this is usually when a baby's bilirubin level is highest. This is why, if your baby is discharged before age 72 hours, your baby should be seen within 2 days of discharge. The timing of this visit may vary depending on your baby's age when released from the hospital and other factors.

Q: Which babies require more attention for jaundice?

A: Some babies have a greater risk for high levels of bilirubin and may need to be seen sooner after discharge from the hospital. Ask your doctor about an early follow-up visit if your baby has any of the following:

  • A high bilirubin level before leaving the hospital

  • Early birth (more than 2 weeks before the due date)

  • Jaundice in the first 24 hours after birth

  • Breastfeeding that is not going well

  • A lot of bruising or bleeding under the scalp related to labor and delivery

  • A parent, brother, or sister who had high bilirubin and received light therapy

Q: When should I call my baby's doctor?

A: Call your baby's doctor if:

  • Your baby's skin turns more yellow

  • Your baby's abdomen, arms, or legs are yellow

  • The whites of your baby's eyes are yellow

  • Your baby is jaundiced and is hard to wake, fussy, or not nursing or taking formula well

Q: How is harmful jaundice prevented?

A: Most jaundice requires no treatment. When treatment is necessary, placing your baby under special lights while he or she is undressed will lower the bilirubin level. Depending on your baby's bilirubin level, this can be done in the hospital or at home. Jaundice is treated at levels that are much lower than those at which brain damage is a concern. Treatment can prevent the harmful effects of jaundice. Putting your baby in sunlight is not recommended as a safe way of treating jaundice. Exposing your baby to sunlight might help lower the bilirubin level, but this will only work if the baby is completely undressed. This cannot be done safely inside your home because your baby will get cold, and newborns should never be put in direct sunlight outside because they might get sunburned.

Q: When does jaundice go away?

A: In breastfed babies, jaundice often lasts for more than 2 to 3 weeks. In formula-fed babies, most jaundice goes away by 2 weeks. If your baby is jaundiced for more than 3 weeks, see your baby's doctor.



Even though jaundice is normal and a little sunlight can make it go away, be alert for those signs of a greater issue so you don't go through what we had to.


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