Preemie Complications

Jaundice

What is jaundice? Jaundice is a yellow coloring of the skin. Jaundice results from aging red blood cells (babies' red blood cells have shorter lives than those of adults) producing a substance called bilirubin. In full-term babies, bilirubin is processed by the liver and released in the stool. Premature babies' organs are not fully developed and their livers can't process bilirubin rapidly enough. Jaundice usually appears around the second or third day of life and shouldn't last more than a week.

Is jaundice dangerous? Small increases in bilirubin levels aren't harmful. However, extremely high levels, very rare in premature infants, can cause deafness, cerebral palsy, or brain damage.

How is jaundice treated? Jaundice is usually treated with phototherapy, a procedure in which the baby is placed under special lights or on a light-producing blanket. These lights break down the bilirubin in the skin. Your doctor may also recommend more frequent feedings of breast milk or formula to help your baby pass the bilirubin in her stools. If a baby's bilirubin gets close to harmful levels, the hospital can perform a transfusion, exchanging baby's blood with blood from the blood bank.

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