Definition

What is infant jaundice?

Infant jaundice is a yellow discoloration in a newborn baby’s skin and eyes.

How common is infant jaundice?

Infant jaundice is a common condition, particularly in babies born before 38 weeks gestation (preterm babies) and some breast-fed babies.

Please discuss with your doctor for further information.

Symptoms

What are the symptoms of infant jaundice?

Yellowing of the skin and the whites of the eyes is a sign of infant jaundice that usually appears between the second and fourth day after birth.

To check for infant jaundice, press gently on your baby’s forehead or nose. If the skin looks yellow where you pressed, it’s likely your baby has mild jaundice. If your baby doesn’t have jaundice, the skin color should simply look slightly lighter than its normal color for a moment.

Examine your baby in good lighting conditions, preferably in natural daylight.

There may be some symptoms not listed above. If you have any concerns about a symptom, please consult your doctor.

When should I see my doctor?

Most cases of jaundice are normal, but sometimes jaundice 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:

  • Your baby’s skin becomes more yellow
  • Your baby’s skin looks yellow on the abdomen, arms or legs
  • The whites of your baby’s eyes look yellow
  • Your baby seems listless or sick or is difficult to awaken
  • Your baby isn’t gaining weight or is feeding poorly
  • Your baby makes high-pitched cries
  • Your baby develops any other signs or symptoms that concern you
  • Jaundice lasts more than three weeks

Causes

What causes infant jaundice?

Excess bilirubin (hyperbilirubinemia) is the main cause of jaundice. Bilirubin, which is responsible for the yellow color of jaundice, is a normal part of the pigment released from the breakdown of “used” red blood cells.

Normally, the liver filters bilirubin from the bloodstream and releases it into the intestinal tract. A newborn’s immature liver often can’t remove bilirubin quickly enough, causing an excess of bilirubin. Jaundice due to these normal newborn conditions is called physiologic jaundice, and it typically appears on the second or third day of life.

Other causes

An underlying disorder may cause jaundice. In these cases, jaundice often appears much earlier or much later than physiologic jaundice. Diseases or conditions that can cause jaundice include:

  • Internal bleeding (hemorrhage)
  • An infection in your baby’s blood (sepsis)
  • Other viral or bacterial infections
  • An incompatibility between the mother’s blood and the baby’s blood
  • A liver malfunction
  • An enzyme deficiency
  • An abnormality of your baby’s red blood cells that causes them to break

Risk factors

What increases my risk for infant jaundice?

There are many risk factors for infant jaundice, such as:

  • Premature babies, or babies born before 37 weeks’ gestation
  • Significant bruising during birth. If your newborn gets bruises from the delivery, he or she may have a higher level of bilirubin from the breakdown of more red blood cells.
  • Babies who aren’t getting enough breast milk (or formula, for babies that are not being given breast milk), either because they are having a hard time feeding or because their mother’s milk isn’t in yet
  • Babies whose blood type isn’t compatible with the blood type of their mother

Diagnosis & treatment

The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.

How is infant jaundice diagnosed?

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 3 to 7 days after birth.

A distinct yellow coloring confirms that a baby has jaundice, but additional tests may be 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 test 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, testing for Rhesus factor (Rh) incompatibility, and a Coombs test, which may be positive in cases of increased red blood cell breakdown.

How is infant jaundice treated?

Mild jaundice will usually resolve on its own as a baby’s liver begins to mature. Frequent feedings (between 8 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 while 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.

Lifestyle changes & home remedies

What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage infant jaundice?

The following lifestyles and home remedies might help you cope with infant jaundice:

During pregnancy, you can have your blood type tested. After birth, your baby’s blood type will be tested if necessary 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.

Make sure your baby is getting enough nutrition through breast milk. Feeding your baby 8 to 12 times a day for the first several days ensures that your baby isn’t dehydrated, which helps bilirubin pass through their body more quickly.

If you’re unable to breastfeed and choose to feed your baby formula, give your baby 1 to 2 ounces of formula every 2 to 3 hours for the first week. Preterm or smaller babies may take smaller amounts of formula, as will babies who are also receiving breast milk. Talk to your doctor if you are concerned your baby is taking too little or too much formula or if they won’t wake to feed at least 8 times per 24 hours.

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.

If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Sources

Review Date: October 26, 2017 | Last Modified: October 26, 2017