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Thursday, November 4, 2010

Dear Jaundice, You Suck.

Charlie has been doing wonderfully this week and is very healthy for a 34 week preemie. His current battle, however? Keeping his body temperature up and his bilirubin levels down. Yesterday, he was moved from the warmer bed to an open crib, but needed to be moved back to the warmer this morning when he couldn't keep his temperature up throughout the night (even with a sleep sack and blankets). That's okay - he's still little. We'll just have to keep an eye on him to make sure he stays cozy. His bilirubin levels are another story. Since Sunday, his levels have continued climbing as a result of nothing more than him being a preemie. Its a very common condition with an easy fix, but takes time and patience to get through.

Bilirubin is the product of red blood cells as they naturally break down (its what makes bruises turn yellow/green as they heal). In babies (especially premature ones), they have trouble getting rid of the excess bilirubin in their body, so they turn yellow or orange (a nice spray tan orange in Charlie's case) as it backs up. The result is a very sleepy baby and an increased risk of other medical issues. In infants, bilirubin is typically expelled when they poop, which inevitably happens once they start eating consistently. For Charlie, one of his problems is that he is so sleepy from the bilirubin that he only has a good 5-10 minutes of energy to eat each time we get him up (about every 3 hours). When we hold him, he wants to snuggle up and falls asleep. While ridiculously adorable, it doesn't do much for his caloric intake. When he doesn't eat well, not only is his weight affected, but he's not pooping as much. Less poop = less chance for bilirubin to get out = sleepy baby = less eating....and so on. We're working now to break this cycle and help him to eat more consistently. Right now, he's often too sleepy to latch for breast feeding, but luckily pumping has been working well. Seen as we can only hold him for 30 minutes at a time (every 3 hours) so he can otherwise get his jaundice light treatment, being able to at least provide milk for him is keeping this new Mom from going over the edge.

In the grand scheme of things that could affect a preemie, a bad case of jaundice ranks pretty low on the worst case scenario list - something we're thankful for. We now know why NICU nurses don't give guesses on how long babies will be there - because that's not what is important. Patience and health are important. Charlie will be ready to go home when he's ready (and not orange) and that's good enough for me!

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