Jaundice, Newborn

Jaundice is when the skin, the whites of the eyes, and mucous membranes turn a yellowish color. It is caused by increased levels of bilirubin in the blood (hyperbilirubinemia). Bilirubin is produced by the normal breakdown of red blood cells. A small amount of jaundice is normal in newborns because they have an immature liver. The liver may take 1 to 2 weeks to develop completely. Jaundice usually lasts for about 2 to 3 weeks in babies who are breastfed. Jaundice usually clears up in less than 2 weeks in babies who are formula fed.

CAUSES

Newborn jaundice can also be caused by:

  • Problems with the mother's blood type and the newborn's blood type not being compatible.

  • Maternal diabetes.

  • Internal bleeding of the newborn.

  • Infection.

  • Birth injuries such as bruising of the scalp or other areas of the newborn's body.

  • Prematurity.

  • Poor feeding with the newborn not getting enough calories. 

SYMPTOMS

  • Yellow color to the skin, whites of eyes, or mucous membranes.

  • Poor eating.

  • Sleepiness.

  • Weak cry.

DIAGNOSIS

Blood tests may be taken.

TREATMENT

Your child's caregiver will decide the necessary treatment for your newborn. Treatment may include:

  • Special light therapy (phototherapy).

  • Bilirubin level checks during follow-up exams.

  • Increased infant feedings.

  • Blood exchange (rare) if the bilirubin levels do not improve or your newborn gets worse.

HOME CARE INSTRUCTIONS

  • Watch your newborn to see if the jaundice gets worse. Undress your newborn and look at his or her skin under natural sunlight by a window. The yellow color cannot be seen under artificial light.

  • Place your newborn under the special lights or blanket as directed by your newborn's caregiver. Cover your newborn's eyes while under the lights.

  • Encourage frequent feedings. Use added fluids only as directed by your newborn's caregiver.

  • Follow up as told by your newborn's caregiver. This is important.

SEEK MEDICAL CARE IF:

  • Jaundice lasts longer than 3 weeks.

  • Your newborn is not nursing or bottle-feeding well.

  • Your newborn becomes fussy.

  • Your newborn is sleepier than usual.

SEEK IMMEDIATE MEDICAL CARE IF:

  • Your newborn turns blue or stops breathing.

  • Your newborn starts to look or act sick.

  • Your newborn is very sleepy or is hard to awaken.

  • Your newborn stops wetting diapers normally.

  • Your newborn's body becomes more yellow or the jaundice is spreading.

  • Your newborn is not gaining weight.

  • Your newborn develops other symptoms that are concerning.

  • Your newborn develops an unusual or high-pitched cry.

  • Your newborn develops abnormal movements.

  • Your newborn develops a fever.

MAKE SURE YOU:

  • Understand these instructions.

  • Will watch your newborn's condition.

  • Will get help right away if your newborn is not doing well or gets worse.