Jaundice sounds rather scary but it is rather common. While infant jaundice occurs in roughly half of the babies carried to full term, it is more prevalent in premature infants. Symptoms usually last seven to 14 days and in most cases is not harmful to the baby. The condition can be easily diagnosed through the yellowing color of an infant’s skin and eyes. If your baby is jaundiced your pediatrician will want to do a few blood tests to make sure it is only a passing condition.
Infant jaundice occurs because the baby is unable to excrete bilirubin, an enzyme formed with the breakdown of red blood cells. Since infants have more red blood cells than grown adults, the liver has to work overtime to dispose of the excess cells. In premature infants, especially, the liver is not fully developed and therefore unable to perform this task.
The condition normally appears within two to four days after birth. At that time the sclera (or white part of the eye) turns a shade of yellow as does the infant's skin. For the majority of babies this condition disappears on its own, for other infants there are several methods of treatment.
Some doctors suggest you feed the infant more often, thus promoting frequent bowel movements which can help eliminate excess bilirubin. Other methods of treatment include phototherapy, which uses light to wear down the bilirubin in the skin. Like any health condition, infant jaundice should be addressed with your pediatrician.