Jaundice and Newborn Babies

Dr. M. Vijayalakshmi, M.D (Peds), M.D (USA), F.A.A.P

"Content Source: American Academy of Pediatrics"
Jaundice and Newborn Babies

To make sure that your baby's first week is safe and healthy , it is important that

  • Your baby is checked by a doctor for jaundice at birth
  • If you are breastfeeding, you get help you need to make sure that it is going well
  • Your baby is seen by a doctor at 3-5 days of age
What is Jaundice?

Jaundice is the yellow color seen in the skin of newborns. It happens when a chemical called bilirubin builds up in the baby's blood. Jaundice can occur in babies of any race or color.

Why is Jaundice common in newborns?

Everyone's blood contains bilirubin, which is removed by the liver. Before birth, the mother's liver does this for the baby. Most babies develop jaundice in the first few days after birth because it takes a few days for the baby's liver to get better at removing bilirubin.

How can I tell if my baby is jaundiced?

The skin of a baby with jaundice usually appears yellow. The best way to see jaundice is in good light, such as daylight or under fluorescent lights. Jaundice usually appears first in the face and then moves to the chest, abdomen, arms and legs as the bilirubin level increases. The whites of the eyes may also be yellow. Jaundice may be harder to see in babies with darker skin color.

Can jaundice hurt my baby?

Most infants have mild jaundice that is harmless, but in unusual situations the bilirubin level can get very high and might cause brain damage. This is why newborns should be checked carefully for jaundice and treated to prevent high bilirubin level.

How should my baby be checked for jaundice?

If your baby looks jaundiced in the first few days after birth, your baby's doctor may use a skin test or blood test to check your baby's bilirubin level. A bilirubin level is always needed if jaundice develops before the baby is 24 hours old. Whether a test is needed after depends on the baby's age, the amount of jaundice, and whether the baby has other factors that make jaundice more likely or harder to see.

Does breastfeeding affect jaundice?

Jaundice is more common in babies who are breast-fed that babies who are formula-fed, but this occurs only in infants who are not nursing well. If you are breastfeeding, you should nurse your baby at least 8 to 12 times a day for the first few days. This will help you produce enough milk and will help to keep the baby's bilirubin level down. If you are having trouble breastfeeding, ask your doctor for help. Breast milk is the ideal food for your baby.

When should my newborn get checked after leaving the hospital?

It is important for your baby to be seen by a doctor when the baby is between 3-5 days old, because it is when a baby's bilirubin level is the highest. The timing of the visit may vary depending on your baby's age when released from the hospital and factors.

Which babies require more attention for jaundice?

Some babies have a greater risk of high levels of bilirubin and may need to be seen sooner after discharge from the hospital. Ask your doctor about an early follow up visit if your baby has any of the following:

  • A high level of bilirubin level before leaving the hospital
  • Early birth (more than 2 weeks before due date)
  • Jaundice in the first 24 hours after the birth
  • Breastfeeding that is not going well
  • A lot of bruising or bleeding under the scalp related to labor and delivery
  • A parent or brother or sister who had high bilirubin and received light therapy
When should call my Baby's doctor?

Call your baby's doctor if:

  • Your baby's skin turns yellow
  • Your baby's abdomen, arms or legs are yellow
  • The whites of your baby's eyes are yellow
  • Your baby is jaundiced and is hard to wake, fussy, or not nursing or taking formula well
How is harmful jaundice prevented?

Most jaundices require no treatment. When treatment is necessary, placing your baby under special lights while he or she is undressed will lower the bilirubin level. This will usually be done at a hospital or clinic. Treatment can prevent the harmful effects of jaundice.

When does jaundice go away?

In breastfed infants, jaundice often lasts for more than 2-3 weeks. In formula-fed babies the jaundice goes away usually by 2 weeks. If your baby is jaundiced more than 3 weeks , you must see your baby's doctor.

Remember, there is no substitute for medical advice that comes from a pediatrician after they have evaluated your child. This document is only for informational purposes and is not a substitute for medical advice.