Overview: My baby has jaundice

Here is what every new mom like me should know about jaundice

In the first few weeks of being a first-time mom, so many challenges come at you unexpectedly. Unfortunately, my journey started on a steep learning curve the first day I became a mom. A few hours after Levi was born, he was taken from me and placed into the intensive care unit (ICU) for a few days. Not only did he have to stay there, but as we were being discharged, we were told that Levi was born with an undescended testicle and that he had jaundice.

You may ask, “What is jaundice?” Jaundice is a yellow coloring of the skin and eyes. This happens when there is too much bilirubin in the baby’s blood. “Bilirubin is a yellow substance that comes from the normal breakdown of red blood cells. The liver removes bilirubin from the blood and passes it into the bowels so it can leave the body,” according to Nemours Children’s Health.

A week and a half later Levi was discharged and we had been advised by his pediatrician to keep an eye on Levi’s skin and any other symptoms that might develop, since his jaundice was “borderline.” The most common symptom of jaundice is the yellow skin tone. It starts on the face, the chest, stomach and legs. The whites of a baby’s eyes also look yellow. Nemours Children’s Health states that babies with high bilirubin levels may be sleepy, fussy, floppy or have trouble feeding.

Fortunately, my son Levi did not have any other symptoms other than the yellow skin tone. As soon as we were sent home, we were scheduled for an appointment with a pediatrician the following week at the hospital. 

The experience with jaundice baby

The next few days were incredibly tough because I delivered Levi via an emergency C-section. It was hard for me to get up, walk or even carry my baby. Even with the amazing help and support of my partner and family, caring for a newborn while recovering from a traumatic birth was a lot to handle.

Getting out of the house to see the pediatrician filled me with anxiety because I was new to the routine and still in physical pain. Even when going out for a short trip, getting diapers, hats, blankets and everything else packed is quite a task. 

My baby with jaundice
Levi and dad having bonding time.

I was constantly worried about Levi’s jaundice. For a couple of days, his levels were not great but not in the danger zone. I did not want to be back in the ICU. This first time I walked in the ICU to see Levi, he was there alone. It was really sad to see. I thought he would be in good hands but based on what I saw, he was not. He had thrown up on his clothes as soon, and as I saw that I was furious. Thankfully, I was able to stay with him the next few days but let me be honest, I was freaking out. They only allowed one parent in the room, so it was my first time alone with the baby. Just the thought that I would be doing it all alone was scary. But I did it and it wasn’t bad at all.

Sun and son

Levi’s pediatrician suggested exposing him to sunlight every day. That meant opening all the windows in the house to let the sun in.  On top of  this, we had to keep getting Levi’s blood drawn to keep an eye on things. We did this for about four weeks. Seeing Levi get poked every week was a horrible feeling. He would cry every time the needle was inserted. The worst part is that I had to hold him down during the blood draw process.

Jaundice can be a mild and temporary condition for most babies and the same was true for my Levi.

“But in rare cases, the bilirubin level can get very high and might cause brain damage. This is why testing bilirubin levels as recommended is important,” according to Healthy Children. 

The article by UCLA Health states that about “60% of full-term newborns get jaundice and so do 80% of premature babies.”

By the fifth visit to the hospital, Levi’s jaundice levels had dropped to less than 13 ml, and he was no longer required to get his blood drawn.

What went wrong?

I always wonder if his jaundice was caused by not being breastfed continuously for the first 24 hours after birth? It’s crucial that all newborns are breastfed from day one, according to the lactation consultant at the hospital.

“Some babies don’t breastfeed well at first. This causes breastfeeding failure jaundice. Not feeding well makes your baby dehydrated. It also causes your baby to urinate less,” according to UCLA Health.

My situation was different. I was only able to breastfeed my son once, and my milk wasn’t ready yet. By the time I kept pumping to produce milk, Levi had already been taken from me to be in the ICU. And I wasn’t able to see him until the next 24 hours ended because I had a fever while giving birth. I understand its protocol, but it was extremely difficult for me to be apart from my newborn.

jaundice in babies
That was the first time I had seen Levi in the ICU.

Many variables come into play when it comes to jaundice. Sometimes babies are jaundiced due to an underlying issue, such as a blood incompatibility between mother and child. “The baby may have received antibodies through the placenta that cause abnormally rapid breakdown of red blood cells,” according to the Mayo Clinic. Some other causes can be premature birth, race, liver malfunction, internal bleeding, bruising during birth, breastfeeding and enzyme deficiency, as also stated by the Mayo Clinic.

I know being a first-time mom can be hard, but things do get better for us rookie moms. I can promise you that.

If there is anything I can help young mothers and fathers with, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me by email at amairani@latinomedia.org.

Amairani Hernandez is a native of Los Angeles and a graduate of the California State University of Los Angeles with a degree in Broadcast Journalism. She is a staff multimedia journalist, who focuses on...