Jaundice: a word that you will probably have heard being bandied around by friends who are parents but never quite understood. Until you become a parent yourself and are faced with the prospect of warding your itty bitty newborn in the hospital for it.
When Aidan was born, we were hit hard by jaundice. According to our paediatrician, this was because of blood type incompatibility between Aidan and I – we were both of different blood groups, which makes it pathological jaundice. Subsequently, because I was exclusively breastfeeding, breastmilk jaundice set in.
By then, the levels of bilirubin in Aidan’s bloodstream reached 19 units per ml and we had to ward him in the hospital for three extra nights so that he could be placed under the phototherapy lights 24/7.
And it was such a heartbreaking time. Imagine seeing your tiny newborn – your beautiful baby whom you are absolutely and madly in love with – thrashing about and crying on the phototherapy bed, clad only in a diaper and an eye mask. And while all you want to do is to scoop him up and cuddle him close, you know that there is nothing you can do to comfort him.
I burst into tears.
Subsequently, I stopped taking him to get his heel pricked and his bilirubin level fell slowly on its own. It took a good three months before he stopped looking like a burnt piece of toast and looked like a normal infant.
With Zac, I was optimistic that he wouldn’t get it as bad as his brother did. Unfortunately, his blood type is different from mine too and our PD warned that it was likely he would be hit by jaundice as well, and got us to rent the phototherapy bed to use at home as a preventive measure.
I naively thought that we would be done with the phototherapy in a couple of days, and that it would be easier done at home. Ah, foolish mother!
For one, we ended up renting the bed for two whole weeks. And it was quite a painful experience too. On the first day, Zac cried every time we put him on the bed. I tried letting him cry it out but my poor mama’s heart couldn’t bear to hear his wails for more than 20 minutes. That night, Mr Thick slept with his hand on Zac as the baby cried for an hour before he finally fell asleep. Subsequently, I would try to nurse him to sleep before placing him gingerly into the bed. Sometimes it worked and Zac would sleep for an hour or so, but there were also times when he absolutely hated it and cried his heart out.
At the same time, his face, neck and arms broke out in angry, red rashes, probably from the heat of the bed.
We went for heel prick tests almost every three days and while Zac was a trooper, I was a complete basket case. Not during the pricking, no, but while waiting for the call from our PD to come in. When the levels went up, I sat on the bed and cried.
So yes, the past three weeks have not been easy. Thankfully, our last blood test showed that the level was finally falling, although very slowly. We’ve since returned the horrid bed and life is beginning to be normal.
Jaundice. It’s something you won’t quite understand unless you have to go through it yourself. And judging from the responses that I get from my Instagram mama friends, it seems that I am not alone in my tears and anxiety!
If you have a newborn who has jaundice too, know that you do have options. Warding your child would be the fastest way to get the levels down and you can stay in the hospital with him if you are exclusively breastfeeding. Alternatively, you can rent the bilibed but know that you have to be very disciplined and have a heart of steel. If you are breastfeeding, the likelihood that it is breastmilk jaundice is very high, and the bilirubin level will fall eventually. There is no need to stop breastfeeding.
Hopefully you won’t ever have to encounter this!