Discharged Without My Baby: Jaundice in Newborns

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Image via Flickr: SilentObserver

“We aren’t going to be able to discharge him today, unfortunately, but we are confi-”

She paused.

Tears were bubbling in my lower lids like peroxide doused in baking soda.

She cleared her throat and began again.

“His levels are a little higher than we’d like to see, so we think a night under the phototherapy lights will really help with his jaundice.”

She spoke softly and with a sensitivity I was certain they couldn’t teach in medical school.

I nodded.

It was important to me she knew how much I appreciated her gentle delivery, so falling on the floor and sobbing in a pool of postpartum pity didn’t seem fair.

When my nurse, my incredibly wonderful nurse, broke the news his bilirubin levels were still elevated, and we were not going to be discharged together, I tried to contemplate ways I could stay overnight on the sidewalk in front of the hospital.  On Madison Avenue.  In the snow.  

My son spent the wee morning hours of our supposed last day in the hospital under the “bili” lights in the nursery.  Amidst packing our bags and applying a little make up for our “first time home” photos, I’d plodded down the long hallway at least ten times to catch a glimpse of his yellow-tinged, scrawny, diaper-clad body adorned with special sunglasses that made my heart “aww” with cuteness … and sadness.  He glowed blue inside the special bassinet – his delicate skin obediently absorbing the ultraviolet lights armed to cure him.

MORE: Video: Jaundice Phototherapy for Babies }

His bilirubin levels revealed themselves to be slightly elevated earlier that day, but I’d been incapable of imagining leaving the hospital without him – so I didn’t.

But when my nurse, my incredibly wonderful nurse, broke the news his bilirubin levels were still elevated, and we were not going to be discharged together, I tried to contemplate ways I could stay overnight on the sidewalk in front of the hospital.  On Madison Avenue.  In the snow.  

Of course.

My husband, with all of his frustrating common sense and logic, convinced me that bunking up on the sidewalks of New York City in the snow four days after having a c-section wasn’t necessarily the most responsible course of action for a new mother, so reluctantly, I loaded in a cab – sans baby – and I cried 112% of the drive home.

We ventured back to the hospital early the next morning and were greeted with the news we’d hoped to receive.  Our son’s most recent blood test revealed his bilirubin levels were within a normal range and he’d be discharged before lunch!

Hallelujah!

While my son’s experience was relatively minor, jaundice in newborns is incredibly common.  The March of Dimes indicates about 60% of all newborns have jaundice, resulting in a yellowish tint to the baby’s skin and/or whites of their eyes.  It is caused when a buildup of bilirubin (a compound produced by the breakdown of red blood cells) circulates in the blood.  Newborns typically have difficulty eliminating this buildup because of their immature livers.  In utero, the bilirubin is filtered by the mother’s liver.

MORE: How To Recognize Jaundice in Newborns }

In most cases, bilirubin levels peak around three to five days after birth, therefore, the hospital will perform a test to check the levels of your baby prior to discharge.  If the levels are found to be outside of the normal range, treatment usually consists of prescribing the baby time under phototherapy or “bili” lights.  Your baby is undressed, unswaddled, given protective eyewear, and placed under ultraviolet lights that are effective in changing your baby’s bilirubin to a substance more easily eliminated through his urine.  Keeping your baby hydrated with plenty of breastmilk or formula will help him eliminate more efficiently.

Phototherapy is typically successful in reducing the buildup of bilirubin in your baby’s bloodstream, but in severe cases, your baby may need additional therapies and/or admission into the intensive care unit for a blood transfusion.

According to the Mayo Clinic, you can often check for infant jaundice by gently pressing your finger to your baby’s forehead or to the tip of his nose.  If the skin is yellow where you pressed, it is likely your baby has jaundice.  Consult your healthcare provider if you have any concerns about your baby’s condition.

Did your little one have jaundice? Share your story in the comments! 

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Discharged Without My Baby: Jaundice in Newborns

Jennifer Bruno is a credentialed trainer by day and a freelance writer and aspiring photographer by night. Raised in rural Kansas, Jen moved to sunny Florida after college where she met her husband, who married her despite hearing her sing Dixie Chicks karaoke. Shortly after saying “I do”, they moved to New York City to fulfill their dream of living amongst the bright lights and skyscrapers. They currently share their cramped apartment with two modelesque miniature dachshunds named Millie an ... More

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10 comments

  1. Profile photo of Michele Michele says:

    my older daughter had jaundice as a newborn, but thanks to a wonderful hospital and my insistence on breastfeeding exclusively, they allowed me to stay and room-in with her for an extra day after my discharge until we could take her home. I will always be grateful for the team there that made a difficult situation easier.

  2. Profile photo of Katherine Katherine says:

    My little girl had high bilirubin levels when she was born, but the hospital (Lowell General in Lowell, Massachusetts) let me stay with her for the three days she was under the lights because I was her food source. I was so impressed. They helped make a stress full situation so much better.

  3. Profile photo of kaitlyn kaitlyn says:

    When my son was born I didn’t see him at all bc he had respiratory distress and a heart murmur so they took him to a children’s hospital where the right procedures could be done and he also was jaundice….after having him June 8th on a Sunday o was able to see him the following Tuesday and finally got to bring him home the day before fathers day

  4. Profile photo of DanielleRoss DanielleRoss says:

    . I kept his bassinet under the living room window so the sun could be on him at all times he cleared up in just a couple of days.

  5. Profile photo of Phammom Phammom says:

    Prayers to all who do have it.

  6. Profile photo of Angela Angela says:

    My son had jaundice. The nurse who told me they had to put him under the lights made it sound like jaundice was this rare thing, and he had it because I wasn’t feeding him enough. Made me feel like I was already a bad mother. I cried and felt horrible. He ended up being able to leave with us when we were discharged though; and when I got home, I find out from my mother that jaundice is really common and it had nothing to do with me at all. I hated that nurse.

  7. Profile photo of Megan Megan says:

    My son was 2 days old and the hospital was preparing to discharge us both. I told the nurse that I thought my son was jaundice and he was really yellow. Without really looking at him, she told me that most babies do get a little jaundice while talking to me like I was a stupid over-worried first time mom. I insisted she look at him and do tests. When she finally came and examined him, she ordered testing right away. His bilirubin level was 20.1 when they are normally around 4.5 to 6. They rushed to get him under lights and transferred him to the NICU an hour away. His level came down just enough by the time he got there, so he didn’t have to have a blood transfusion. My son spent most of his first week of life in a box, blindfolded under the lights. I couldn’t hold him again for 3 days. When he finally came home he still had to spend a majority of his time on the bili-bed for a few more days. It was such a relief that everything turned out ok but it made us caution for our next son. At the time I didn’t have any information about ABO incompatibility or even truly know the causes of newborn jaundice, I wish that was something my OB would have talked to me about.

  8. Profile photo of april april says:

    I got discharged before my twins did. I got lucky that hospital was not too busy and they allowed me to stay with my babies. I live 3 hours away from where they had kept my babies. It was scary that I almost had to leave my twins in the hospital 3 hrs. away from myself.

  9. Profile photo of Tina Tina says:

    I’m glad she was able to take him home the next day. It would be extremely hard to be told you have to leave the hospital without your baby.

  10. Profile photo of Dario Dario says:

    Strong lady and good man.

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