I remember vividly, with all the emotion and awe that I had then, all the gratitude, wonder and exhaustion that accompanied it, the day when my second son was born. It was a beautiful, easy and fast delivery, two days after the Twin Towers went down, I'd been shaken and shocked and was now ready, not wanting to be pregnant and watching the news, but to be holding my boy safely in my arms. Gabe was born without any sort of medical intervention or assistance. I gave birth naturally and he was a healthy, fiesty newborn. He slept. He nursed. He eliminated like a champ. And then, in the second week of his life, he suddenly turned yellow and looked like he wasn't supposed to look; the rosiness disappeared, my panic began to set in.
The doctor said he had "jaundice" and that I should hold him under sunlight for as many moments as possible during the day. Living in Los Angeles made this easy; having a two and a half year old wanting to play did not. But over the course of a few days, sunlight included religiously in our daily routine, my baby's color slowly returned and the yellowness faded into the nether regions of my memory.
What is jaundice, really?
Jaundice itself is not a disease. It is a condition that can occur and is an indicator of another condition or disease, mostly related to liver function. The appearance of yellowish skin and yellow to brownish whites of the eyes is indicative of jaundice and may mean that the liver is not functioning properly. More specifically, it means that there are high levels of a chemical called "bilirubin" in the bloodstream and this in and of itself is causing the yellowing.
Bilirubin is actually a chemical that forms in the red blood cells if iron is taken out or limited, as in the case of anemia.
Bilirubin is considered a waste product and something that the liver works to eliminate. If there is an overabundance of bilirubin the bloodstream, or if there is a problem with the liver, an elevated bilirubin level can lead to jaundice.
In newborns, as with my son, sometimes the slow development of the liver can lead to bilibrubin elevation and subsequent jaundice.