Throughout the pregnancy, your baby is dependent on oxygen passed to him or her through the placenta and umbilical cord. Their blood contains extra red blood cells to transport oxygen around the body. Once they are born and breathing through their own lungs, they no longer need the extra red blood cells and their body will begin to get rid of them.
These extra red blood cells are broken down in your baby’s spleen and the main by-product of this process is bilirubin.
Bilirubin is taken out of the bloodstream and passed into the gut by the liver. However, because your baby’s liver is immature, it may not be able to cope with the surge of bilirubin in the first days of life. The excess bilirubin in the bloodstream will make the skin look yellow or jaundiced.
A small amount of jaundice is quite normal. However, if there is too much bilirubin in your baby’s blood, it could affect their brain. Your midwife and doctor will carefully monitor any jaundice in your baby.
• Feed your baby. This will help remove the bilirubin from their system. Don’t wait for your baby to cry. Feed them when they seem ready.
• Don’t give her any other fluids. Your milk will help get rid of the excess bilirubin.
If your baby becomes very jaundiced, they will be placed under a mobile phototherapy unit, naked except for an eye patch. The light is pleasantly warm and will not hurt. Jaundice is nearly always a short-lived problem. Your baby may need only a few hours’ treatment, or possibly a couple of days. They can be treated at your bedside so there is no need for you to be separated.