MSD Manual

Please confirm that you are not located inside the Russian Federation

honeypot link
Quick Facts

Jaundice in Newborns

By

The Manual's Editorial Staff

Last full review/revision Dec 2019| Content last modified Dec 2019
Click here for the Professional Version
Get the full details

What is jaundice?

Jaundice is a yellow color of the skin and the whites of the eyes that's caused by the buildup of bilirubin in the blood. Bilirubin is a yellow substance your body makes when it breaks down red blood cells. A lot of bilirubin in the blood causes the skin and the white parts of the eye to turn yellow.

  • Jaundice happens when a newborn has too much bilirubin in the blood

  • Usually, mild jaundice happens 2 or 3 days after birth and goes away on its own within 2 weeks

  • Jaundice is common in newborns because they make more bilirubin than adults and have a harder time getting rid of it

  • Jaundice has many causes, some are serious and some are minor

  • Whatever the cause of jaundice, very high levels of bilirubin can harm your baby's brain

What causes jaundice in newborns?

The most common causes of jaundice in newborns are:

Less common causes of jaundice in newborns are:

When should my baby see a doctor for jaundice?

If you deliver your baby in the hospital, doctors and nurses will check your baby for jaundice. If your baby is at home, go to the hospital if your baby's eyes or skin look yellow and your baby has any of these warning signs:

  • The yellow skin or eye color happened in the first day after birth

  • Your baby is 2 weeks old or older

  • Your baby doesn't eat well, is fussy, and has trouble breathing

  • Your baby has a fever

If your baby has yellow skin and eyes but no warning signs, call your baby's doctor.

With severe jaundice, bilirubin builds up in the baby's brain and causes brain damage. Such brain damage is rare, but the chances are higher if your baby is premature.

How can doctors tell if my baby has jaundice?

Doctors look at your baby's skin and eyes for a yellow color. They'll test your baby's bilirubin level by:

  • Doing a blood test

  • Putting a sensor on the baby's skin

To see what’s causing your baby's jaundice, doctors may do:

  • Blood tests

  • Urine tests

How do doctors treat jaundice in newborns?

Doctors will treat the cause of jaundice in your baby. Mild jaundice may not need treatment.

Doctors may have you:

  • Feed your baby more often, so your baby poops more often (this helps bilirubin leave your baby's body)

  • Pump rather than breastfeed for a day or two, if your baby has breast milk jaundice

If your baby has a very high bilirubin level, doctors may do:

  • Phototherapy (a bright, blue light is shined on your baby's skin to help break down the bilirubin)

  • Blood tests for a few days to check that the baby's bilirubin levels are going down

If phototherapy doesn't work, doctors may do:

  • A special type of blood transfusion called an exchange transfusion

With an exchange transfusion, a small amount of your baby's blood is taken out and replaced with donor blood. The donor blood has a normal level of bilirubin.

NOTE: This is the Consumer Version. DOCTORS: Click here for the Professional Version
Click here for the Professional Version
OTHER TOPICS IN THIS CHAPTER
Gastrointestinal (GI) and Liver Problems in Newborns
Others also read
Download the Manuals App iOS ANDROID
Download the Manuals App iOS ANDROID
Download the Manuals App iOS ANDROID
Test your knowledge
Tumors of the Bile Ducts and Gallbladder
Both cancerous and noncancerous tumors of the bile duct or gallbladder are rare. When cancerous, these tumors are almost always fatal. The exception is a cancerous tumor of the gallbladder that is discovered accidentally, such as during gallstone removal surgery. If discovered in this way, the tumor may have been caught early enough to be removed completely, possibly producing a cure. When cancer of the gallbladder is diagnosed, there is almost always a co-existing medical condition found at the same time. Which of the following is the most likely associated medical condition?
Download the Manuals App iOS ANDROID
Download the Manuals App iOS ANDROID
Download the Manuals App iOS ANDROID

Also of Interest

Download the Manuals App iOS ANDROID
Download the Manuals App iOS ANDROID
Download the Manuals App iOS ANDROID
TOP