Neonatal jaundice, also called jaundice of the newborn, is a common and often benign disease, which occurs a few hours or days after birth. It affects an average of one out of three newborns, especially premature babies in which case the frequency increases to two out of three. It results in a yellowing of the skin, mucous membranes and conjunctiva of the eye due to an excess of bilirubin in the blood. This is caused by the destruction of many red blood cells by the immature liver at birth.
Jaundice of the newborn without complications is manifested only as a yellowing of the skin, conjunctiva and mucous membranes. This is the case the majority of the time, but if there are other signs, such as an increasing the size of the liver and spleen, neurological signs, white stools, abnormal movements, there may be other complications involved.
The diagnosis of neonatal jaundice is not complicated. However, it is important to quickly distinguish natural jaundice, said to be physiological and therefore benign, from other rarer forms of pathological jaundice, which can lead to serious neurological complications. A high level of bilirubin in the blood can confirm the diagnosis. In some cases, an ultrasound or further blood tests will be needed to distinguish these causes.
In the case of physiological jaundice, which is the most common case, the disorder will subside after a few days without any treatment. If the jaundice is more pronounced, it is common to opt for phototherapy. The baby is then exposed naked, his eyes protected by a headband, to a blue light in an incubator. The number and duration of these sessions vary depending on the intensity of the jaundice.