Hyperbilirubinemia - Patient Information

If you've noticed your baby's skin is slightly yellowish in color, your baby might be experiencing hyperbilirubinemia. This yellowish coloring is called jaundice and is caused by a substance called bilirubin. It is common in babies in the first few days of life. Hyperbilirubinemia is an increased level of this substance in the blood.
Everyone has small amounts of this in their blood. When red blood cells complete their normal life cycle and break down, they make a waste product called bilirubin. It goes through the liver and is removed in the urine and stool. When a baby is born, it uses its lungs to get oxygen into the blood. The extra red blood cells it used in the womb to carry oxygen from the mother are no longer needed and are broken down. The baby's liver isn't ready to work as hard or as fast as an adults, so it takes longer for the extra bilirubin to be removed. This is normal and expected. Premature babies are more prone to jaundice because it's liver is immature, also.
Low levels of bilirubin are not harmful and are checked as needed with a heelstick lab test. The baby's age and weight are used to calculate his/her acceptable bilirubin level. If your baby's bilirubin level continues to rise, it will most likely be treated with phototherapy.Phototherapy breaks down excess bilirubin in the skin, so it is easier to pass. The baby will be placed naked under fluorescent lights, called bili lights. An eye mask is put over the baby's eyes to protect them from the light. The mask will be off several times a day to give your baby a chance to open his/her eyes and look around. Usually a lubricant made from petroleum jelly will be placed in their eyes to prevent them from becoming too dry.Your baby will probably have frequent stools, which will help get rid of the excess bilirubin. Some babies are fussy under phototherapy, others are very sleepy.Severe jaundice may require a partial or complete blood exchange transfusion, but your doctor will discuss this with you if this procedure becomes neccessary.