Jaundice is a yellow coloring in your baby’s skin, and sometimes, the whites of the eyes. Newborn jaundice happens during the first weeks of life. There are many types of jaundice, including:
- Physiologic jaundice
- Breastfeeding jaundice
- Breast milk jaundice (human milk jaundice syndrome)
- Jaundice caused by hemolysis or increased bilirubin production
- Jaundice caused by inadequate liver function (due to inborn errors of metabolism, prematurity, or enzyme deficiencies)
Baby with Jaundice
Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.
The main symptom of jaundice is yellow skin color. The color usually starts in the face.
The yellow color may then spread down to the stomach and legs. Certain environments may make your baby appear yellow. To look for yellow skin, place your baby near a window or in a room with fluorescent light. If you are still unsure, press gently on the baby’s forehead or chest. Watch as the color reappears.
When to Call the Doctor
Call your baby's doctor if you suspect your baby has jaundice.
If your baby has been diagnosed with jaundice, call your doctor if:
- Yellow color gets deeper
- Yellow color spreads to other parts of the body or the eyes
- Jaundice lasts for more than three weeks
Very high levels of bilirubin in your baby’s blood can be dangerous. It can lead to a very rare form of brain damage called kernicterus. It is important to see a doctor if your baby has signs of this condition. Call the doctor immediately if your baby:
- Is tired all the time or difficult to wake
- Sucks or nurses poorly
- Looks weak or floppy
- Arches his or her back or neck backwards
- Develops a high-pitched cry or fever
- Has convulsions or spasms
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that all babies are assessed for jaundice before they leave the hospital. Your baby will be checked again at 3-5 days of age. If your doctor suspects jaundice, he will ask about your baby’s symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done.
Tests may include:
- Examination of baby’s skin
- Transcutaneous bilirubin (TcB)—a light is passed through the baby's skin to screen for high bilirubin levels
- Blood test—to check level of bilirubin in blood, may be done if TcB shows a risk for high bilirubin levels
Most babies with jaundice will not need treatment. Jaundice in formula-fed infants will usually clear up in two weeks. In breastfed babies, jaundice usually clears up in 2-3 weeks.
If your child does need treatment, talk with the doctor about the best treatment plan. Treatment options include:
Change in Feedings
Increased breastfeeding can help clear bilirubin from your baby's body. Your doctor may ask you to aim for 8-12 feeding per 24-hour period. Do not let your baby sleep for more than four hours without feeding during this time period. If you are having any problems breastfeeding, ask your doctor or lactation specialist for help.
Babies that are formula-fed will need to get extra formula. Ask the doctor for guidelines as to how much formula you should provide. You may need to give your baby 1-2 ounces (30-60 milliliters) of formula every 2-3 hours.
For most jaundice, extra breastfeeding is helpful. However, breast milk jaundice is caused by the breast milk. Your doctor may recommend stopping breastfeeding for a couple days. This will let the bilirubin decrease. Once the jaundice has cleared it is safe to resume breastfeeding.
Phototherapy is the use of special lights. The lights helps alter the bilirubin in the blood. The bilirubin can then easily pass in the urine or through the gastrointestinal tract.
Your baby will be placed naked, or wearing only a small diaper, under special blue or white lights. A shield will help to protect your baby's eyes.
may be done at home or in the hospital.
These light are specially designed to treat the bilirubin without harming your baby's skin. Putting your baby in the direct sunlight is NOT recommended. Direct sunlight on a naked baby can cause a dangerous sunburn.
In the most severe cases of jaundice, your doctor may recommend a blood transfusion. A transfusion will replace your baby’s blood with new blood. The excess bilirubin will be removed with the blood.