Around 50% newborn babies develop jaundice after birth. It usually starts around third day of life, peaks around 5th day and starts decreasing by day 7-10. In many babies, it is a small increase in bilirubin levels , called “ physiological jaundice”. This usually does not require any treatment. Your doctor will advise you to continue breastfeeding and follow up after a day or two depending on bilirubin levels. However, in some of the babies jaundice might appear earlier on day 1 or 2 or bilirubin might be higher than expected. This is called “pathological” jaundice. In this case, baby needs to be admitted to hospital and kept under “ phototherapy” machine. This is more likely if your blood group does not match with that of your baby e g. You are A-ve and your baby is A, B or O+ve; or you are O +ve and the LO is A or B+ be. There are some other conditions like G6PD deficiency which increase the chances of your baby getting jaundice. Your doctor will test your baby for these issues, if his bilirubin levels are high. Phototherapy is the most effective and safest treatment available for newborn jaundice. Baby can be fed during this treatment.
It is important to take the baby to a pediatrician when he/she is 3 days old. Your doctor will assess the baby for jaundice and advise the further course depending on extent of yellow discoloration of skin. He might prescribe a blood test for jaundice or call you for repeat follow up on day 5. If bilirubin levels don’t cross a certain cut off levels, there is usually no long term harm to the baby. However, untreated high bilirubin levels might be harmful to brain. Hence, it is prudent to plan a follow up with pediatrician anywhere between day 3-5 of your newborn for early detection and management.