Healthy Living

What Is Newborn Jaundice?

Newborn Jaundice

What Is Newborn Jaundice?

Jaundice is a harmless condition that often affects newborn babies, which makes the skin and whites of the eyes become yellowish. The medical description of jaundice in newborns is neonatal jaundice. It can occur if high levels of bilirubin are found in the blood and body tissues of newborns. 

Other symptoms associated with jaundice include:

• Pale-colored stools
• Yellowing of the hands and feet
• Dark-yellow urine

When to See a Doctor

Your baby should be examined for the symptoms of jaundice within three days of being born. If the newborn develops jaundice-related symptoms within 72 hours, be quick to consult your doctor, midwife or GP. Whilst jaundice isn’t normally the main reason for concern, it’s imperative to know some measures if your child needs treatment.

However, if the baby is being examined at home, it is also crucial to contact your doctor urgently, especially if the symptoms worsen rapidly or if the baby becomes extremely reluctant to feed.

Why Does My Child Have Jaundice?

Jaundice is triggered by the excessive build-up of bilirubin in the baby’s blood. Bilirubin is a yellowish substance released when the body’s red blood cells are completely broken down. Many babies experience jaundice since their blood contains high levels of red blood cells that are regularly broken down and replaced. Since their liver isn’t fully developed, it tends to be less effective in eliminating bilirubin from the body.

When the baby is about 2 weeks old, his/her liver is already effective in the processing of bilirubin; hence, jaundice often becomes corrected naturally without any medical intervention. In some cases, jaundice could be a result of an underlying condition. This often happens if jaundice occurs shortly after birth.

How Common Is Jaundice?

Jaundice is very common among newborn babies. It is estimated that 6 in every 10 babies experience jaundice at one point of their lives, including 8 out of 10 babies born prematurely. Nevertheless, only 1 out of every 20 newborns has a bilirubin level higher enough to necessitate treatment. Though the reasons are not very clear, research indicates that breastfeeding can increase the chances of your baby to develop jaundice that often lasts for 30 days or even longer. In many cases, the health benefits that come with breastfeeding outweigh all risks linked to jaundice.

Treatments for Jaundice

Most often, jaundice doesn’t need any treatments since the symptoms usually disappear within two weeks, though they could last longer in some few cases. Treatment is normally recommended if the diagnosis shows that the child has very high amounts of bilirubin in the blood. This condition can really be dangerous when bilirubin tends to enter into the brain and cause severe brain damage.

There are two major forms of treatment for newborn jaundice urgently conducted in the hospital. They are:

  • Phototherapy: it's a light therapy wherein the baby’s skin gets exposed to a special kind of light. It is a procedure that helps bilirubin to convert into a better form, which can conveniently be broken down by the body’s liver.
  • Exchange transfusion: this is where liberal amounts of the newborn’s blood are removed and quickly replaced with blood obtained from a corresponding donor.

Many babies are responsive to these treatments and can be discharged from the hospital within a few days.


If newborn jaundice goes untreated for a long time, there is a higher risk of developing permanent brain damage. This serious condition is referred to as kernicterus. Kernicterus isn’t common and affects only a very few people. If you care for your baby, be sure to seek medical assistance immediately after realizing that your child has symptoms related to jaundice.