Get exclusive member benefits & effect social change. Join Today
Newborn jaundice is a yellowing of a baby’s skin and eyes. Newborn jaundice is very common and can occur when babies have a high level of bilirubin, a yellow pigment produced during normal breakdown of red blood cells. In older babies and adults, the liver processes bilirubin, which then passes it through the intestinal tract. However, a newborn’s still-developing liver may not be mature enough to remove bilirubin.
The good news is that in most cases, newborn jaundice goes away on its own as a baby’s liver develops and as the baby begins to feed, which helps bilirubin pass through the body.
In most cases, jaundice will disappear within two to three weeks. Jaundice that persists longer than three weeks may be a symptom of an underlying condition. Additionally, high levels of bilirubin can put a baby at risk for deafness, cerebral palsy, or other forms of brain damage. That’s why the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that all newborn babies be examined for jaundice every time their vital signs are measured (or at least every eight to 12 hours), before discharge from the hospital, and again a few days after discharge.
Babies at highest risk for developing newborn jaundice are:
Babies whose blood types aren’t compatible with their mothers’ can develop a buildup of antibodies that destroy babies’ red blood cells and cause a sudden rise in bilirubin levels.
Other causes of newborn jaundice include:
The first sign of jaundice is a yellowing of a baby’s skin and eyes. The yellowing may begin within two to four days after birth and may start in the face before spreading down across the body. Bilirubin levels typically peak between three to seven days after birth.
If a finger lightly pressed on a baby’s skin causes that area of skin to become yellow, it’s likely a sign of jaundice.
Most cases of jaundice are normal, but sometimes it can indicate an underlying medical condition. Severe jaundice also increases the risk of bilirubin passing into the brain, which can cause permanent brain damage. Contact your doctor if you notice the following symptoms:
The hospital discharges most mothers and newborns within 72 hours of delivery. It’s very important for parents to bring their babies in for a checkup a few days after birth since bilirubin levels peak between three to seven days after birth.
A distinct yellow coloring confirms that a baby has jaundice, but additional tests are necessary to determine the severity of the jaundice.
Babies who develop jaundice in the first 24 hours of life should have bilirubin levels measured immediately, either through a skin or blood test.
Additional tests may be necessary to see if a baby’s jaundice is due to an underlying condition. This may include testing your baby for their complete blood count (CBC), testing for their blood type, and testing for Rhesus factor (Rh) incompatibility, which is also known as a Coombs test.
Mild jaundice will usually resolve on its own as a baby’s liver begins to mature. Frequent feedings (between eight to 12 times a day) will help babies pass bilirubin through their bodies.
More severe jaundice may require other treatments. Phototherapy is a common and highly effective method of treatment that uses light to break down bilirubin in your baby’s body. In phototherapy, your baby will be placed on a special bed under a blue spectrum light and be wearing only a diaper and special protective goggles. A fiber-optic blanket may also be placed underneath your baby.
In very severe cases, an exchange transfusion may be necessary. In an exchange transfusion, a baby receives small amounts of blood from a donor or a blood bank. This replaces the baby’s damaged blood with healthy red blood cells. This also increases the baby’s red blood cell count and reduces bilirubin levels.
There’s no real way to prevent newborn jaundice. During pregnancy, you can have your blood type and your baby’s blood type tested to rule out the possibility of blood type incompatibility that can lead to newborn jaundice. If your baby does have jaundice, there are ways you can prevent it from becoming more severe.
Carefully monitor your baby the first five days of life for the symptoms of jaundice, such as yellowing of the skin and eyes. If you notice that your baby has the symptoms of jaundice, call your doctor immediately.
Written by: Danielle Moores
Published on: Oct 13, 2015on: Jul 26, 2017
Enter your symptoms in our Symptom Checker to find out possible causes of your symptoms. Go.
Enter any list of prescription drugs and see how they interact with each other and with other substances. Go.
Enter its color and shape information, and this tool helps you identify it. Go.
Find information on drug interactions, side effects, and more. Go.
From companies that meet the high standards of service and quality set by AARP.
Members save 10% on the monthly service charge of qualified AT&T wireless plans.
Members pay $9.50 for Regal ePremiere Tickets purchased online.
Members earn points on select Walgreens-brand health and wellness products.
Join or renew today! Members receive exclusive member benefits & affect social change.