Newborn Jaundice

What is Newborn Jaundice?

Newborn jaundice is a condition where a baby’s skin and whites of the eyes tinted yellow. Newborn jaundice is common, especially in the first week of life. It is caused by unusually high amounts of bilirubin in the body.

Bilirubin is a yellow pigment that comes from the breakdown of red blood cells. When there is too much bilirubin in the body, it makes the skin color and sclera (the whites of the eyes) yellow.

Jaundice happens because the body makes more bilirubin than it can expel. In newborns, this happens for a variety of reasons including prematurity, dehydration, infections and blood type incompatibility.

Newborn jaundice is common, but can be harmful. If not given proper medical attention, high amounts of bilirubin can sometimes cause brain damage that could lead to cerebral palsy.

According to the Cleveland Clinic, the best treatment for newborn jaundice is phototherapy, which is a process of placing the baby under a bright light in an enclosed bed. Sometimes babies may also require a treatment called a double volume blood exchange. This is done in extreme cases were the bilirubin buildup is very high.

Newborn jaundice should be treated before a baby leaves the hospital and monitored after discharge if there are any concerns.

Newborn with jaundice receiving phototherapy
Newborn with jaundice receiving phototherapy

Symptoms of Newborn Jaundice

You should seek medical attention if your baby is lethargic and difficult to wake up. If this occurs together with yellowing in the arms, belly, legs, or eyes, call a doctor immediately. Newborn jaundice might also cause an infant to refuse a bottle or breast milk for more than two feedings in a row.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that all infants should be examined for newborn jaundice within a few days after birth.

Treatment for newborn jaundice can last up to two days. If properly treated, jaundice will not harm your baby.

However, jaundice can be a sign of many other issues such as:

  • Blood diseases such as sickle cell anemia, where the blood cells are abnormally shaped
  • Blood incompatibility or mismatch between mom and baby
  • Congenital infections, such as rubella or syphilis
  • Low levels of oxygen
  • Liver diseases such as hepatitis
  • Infections such as sepsis
  • Genetic syndromes
Author:Birth Injury Justice Center
Birth Injury Justice Center

The Birth Injury Justice Center was founded in 2003 by a team of legal professionals to educate and empower victims and families affected by birth injuries. Our team is devoted to providing you with the best resources and legal information for all types of birth injuries.

Last modified: December 10, 2018

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Birth injuries are instances of physical harm during childbirth directly caused by medical errors. There are many types of birth injuries, ranging from mild to severe. Birth injuries—may cause irreversible damage. Birth injuries are instances of physical harm during childbirth directly caused by medical errors.

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