Jaundice happens when too much of a natural chemical called bilirubin builds up in your baby’s body, making her skin look yellow. Bilirubin is made during the normal breakdown of old red blood cells.
Newborns tend to have higher levels of bilirubin. That’s because babies have extra oxygen-carrying red blood cells. Their young livers can’t process the bilirubin that’s generated when these red blood cells start to break down.
As bilirubin levels rise above normal, the yellowness of jaundice moves downwards from your baby’s head to her neck, and then her chest. In severe cases, it may reach her toes.
Jaundice affects over half of all healthy babies in the first week of life. It is also very common among premature babies.
Jaundice can be serious. Jaundice that rises to a high level can result in a rare, but serious, condition called kernicterus. Kernicterus only affects a very few babies, but it can cause long-term problems, such as cerebral palsy, hearing loss, and eye and tooth problems.
Jaundice that begins in the first 24 hours of life is most likely to rise to a dangerous level, but it’s important to always get medical help early, regardless of when the jaundice starts.
Quick test to check for jaundice
In a well-lit room, gently press your fingers on your baby’s nose or forehead. If there’s a yellow tinge to her skin as the pressure is released, tell doctor. If your baby has dark skin, check for yellowness in the whites of her eyes or gums.
You may also notice that your baby does very pale poos. Your baby’s poo is pale because no bilirubin is reaching her digestive system.
However, rest assured that most cases of jaundice clear up on their own in a week or two weeks. If you are breastfeeding, feed your baby frequently. This will help to clear her jaundice. There is no need to give her formula milk or water instead. You may need to wake your baby to feed her if she is very sleepy.
Your baby will need treatment for jaundice if
- Your baby’s jaundice started less than 24 hours after birth.
- Your baby is very jaundiced.
- Your baby’s jaundice seems to be getting worse.
Doctor will give your baby a blood test to check her bilirubin levels. If your baby’s bilirubin levels are high, she may need phototherapy treatment in hospital.
There are two types of phototherapy treatment
- Conventional phototherapy
Your baby will go to hospital and have a light over her bed. The light will help to break down the excess bilirubin so that her liver can get rid of it. Your baby can usually stay in your room, but she may have to go to the special care baby unit. Phototherapy will be stopped every three hours or four hours so you can feed your baby.
- Fibreoptic therapy
Your baby will be wrapped in a special blanket containing fibreoptics, which shines little lights directly on to her skin. You can still cuddle and feed your baby, so it is better for bonding. Fibreoptic treatment may be used first if your baby is premature.
If your baby has extremely high levels of bilirubin in her blood, she may need an exchange transfusion. This involves your baby’s blood gradually being replaced with suitable blood from a donor. Your baby will have close care to make sure he/ she stays well during the treatment. The new blood won’t contain any bilirubin, so the bilirubin levels in your baby’s blood will fall.
Dietary Guidelines for Jaundice
- Any food that is heavy, difficult to digest or likely to create gas is to be avoided. Some pulses and legumes are responsible for such digestive distress and should be avoided at this time.
- All heavy foods that are greasy and oily should be avoided. The liver helps to digest fat through the excretion of bile and when the liver is infected, you should avoid any food that contains excessive amount of fat as this may not be efficiently digested.
- Processed and canned foods should also be avoided.
- Aerated drinks are usually full of sugar but provide no nutritional benefit and should be avoided.
- Hydration is particularly important during jaundice as the body passes toxins out through the urine. Increase the quantity of water being consumed by your child and you may also give him or her some lemon juice, which will contain some electrolytes. These will help give your child an energy boost.
- Foods like baked potatoes and leafy vegetables are generally easy to digest and should be promoted during this time.
- All drinks should be of fresh fruit origin if possible. Some doctors also recommend a juice fast during the period of jaundice infection. Juices are easy to acquire energy and nutrition from and also do not hinder the bowel movements at all.
- It is essential to consume light meals.
- You may feed your child regularly through the day rather than at fixed meal times.
- Make sure that your child consumes a few glasses of juice every day.
It is also important that the diet be followed for a long period after the infection has passed. This is the period that allows the liver to regenerate. During this period, sufficient quantities of vitamins and minerals should be sought from a healthy diet that is based on fruits and vegetables.
Food and Nutrition
Foods to be taken
- Intake of a lot of fluids
- Liquid diet for at least 5 days
- Light diet of Cereal porridge, yogurt, fruit salad
- Vegetables like carrots, beans, spinach.
- Light rice, dal.
- Egg, boiled or steamed fish without any oil
Foods to be avoided
- Oil, Ghee, Butter, Cream
- Processed, canned, refined foods.
- Excessive salt intake.
- Junk foods.
- Intake of only clean water and give your child well balanced meals.
- Vaccination for Hepatitis A&B
- Complete rest
- Intake of Syrup made from sugar candy and peepal leaves can be helpful
- Breast feeding
Dietary Treatment Step By Step
The simple form of jaundice can be cured rapidly by following proper diet. Recovery will however be slow in serious cases caused by obstruction or pressure in the bile ducts. The child-patient should rest in bed till the acute symptoms subside.
He should not be given any solid foods for the first few days of the treatment. He may be given plenty of fresh fruits and vegetable juices.
Fruits and vegetables which can be used for juices are lemon, grapes, pear, tomato, carrot, beet and sugarcane.
If possible, a small warm-water enema should be administered daily during this period to ensure regular bowel elimination so as to prevent the absorption of decomposed material into the bloodstream.
After the severity of the disease is over, the child may be given a simple and well-balanced diet according to his age. The emphasis should be on fresh juicy fruits such as orange, apple, pinapple, grapes, papaya and mango, and vegetables such as spinach, fenugreek and carrots.
He should avoid all fats like ghee, butter, cream and oils for at least two weeks and thereafter their consumption should be kept down to the minimum. Digestive disturbances must be avoided.
No food with a tendency to ferment or putrefy in the lower intestines like pulses and legumes should be included in the diet.
Several home remedies have been found beneficial in the treatment of jaundice. One of the most effective of these is the use of green leaves or radish (muli). The leaves should be pounded and their juice extracted . It should be strained through a clean piece of muslin before use. About 60 to 80 ml. of this juice, depending on the age, should be given to the child-patient three times daily.
It induces healthy appetite and proper evacuation of bowels and this results in gradual decrease of the trouble.
Use of tomatoes is a good remedy for jaundice. Half a glass of fresh tomato juice, mixed with a pinch of salt and pepper, taken early in the morning, is effective.
A mixture of almonds (badam), dried dates (chhuhara) and cardamom (chotti ilachi) is regarded as an effective remedy for jaundice.
Four kernels of almond, one dried date and two small cardamoms should be soaked overnight in water. The outer coating of the almond kernels and the inner seeds of dried dates should be removed the next morning and the whole material should be rubbed into a fine paste. Then 25 grams of sugar should be mixed in it and the patient should lick this mixture.
Sugarcane juice, mixed with lime juice, can hasten recovery from jaundice. Half a glass of this juice, mixed with half a lime, may be given to the child twice daily.
It is very essential that the juice must be pure preferably prepared at home.
Resistance is low in jaundice and any infected beverage could make matters worse.
Lemon is also beneficial in the treatment of jaundice. The patient should be given 50 ml of lemon juice, mixed with water several times a day. It will protect the damaged liver cells.
Barley (jau) water consumed several times during the day is another good remedy for this disease. Half a cup of barley should be boiled in one and a half litre of water and simmered for three hours.