Jaundice in Newborns: What it Means for Your Baby

Aug 21 • 2015

Infant jaundice is a very common occurrence in newborns, typically within the first five days of life. Jaundice is a yellow tint to the skin and the whites of the eyes and is a sign of high levels of bilirubin in the blood. Most babies are born with a mild case of jaundice that goes away on its own within a few weeks, but it is still an issue that should be taken seriously. If your baby’s bilirubin level stays high and is not treated, brain damage can occur.

When the body breaks down old red blood cells, bilirubin is produced. When you are pregnant, this is removed from your body through the placenta. After birth, however, your baby’s body has to get rid of it on its own. Because his organs are not able to do this well in the beginning, jaundice occurs. This is the most common cause, but infection, digestive system issues, or a problem with blood type compatibility between the mom and baby can also be responsible for infant jaundice.

If your newborn baby has jaundice, you will notice his skin and the white part of his eyes will be tinted yellow. Typically this shows up in his chest and face first. If jaundice is not treated, his skin could become more yellow and he may be grumpy or jittery, arch his back, be sluggish, not suck well, or have a high-pitched cry. If you notice these symptoms, it is important to speak with your doctor right away so a physical exam can be performed. A blood test or additional exams may be necessary.

When a baby’s bilirubin level is higher than normal, he will undergo phototherapy treatment. This means he will be placed under a special type of fluorescent light. The skin absorbs the light and makes it easier for the body to get rid of the extra bilirubin. Most of the time this treatment is performed in the hospital, but it can also be done at home.

If you have any questions about jaundice in newborns or feel that your baby is not improving, be sure to speak with your doctor to determine the best course of action.