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Health Information For Parents
Babies with jaundice have a yellow coloring of the skin and eyes. This happens when there is too much bilirubin in the baby’s blood.
Bilirubin (bill-uh-ROO-bin) is a yellow substance that comes from the normal breakdown of red blood cells. The liver removes bilirubin from the blood and passes it into the bowels so it can leave the body.
A newborn baby’s liver does not remove bilirubin as well as an adult’s does. Jaundice (JON-diss) happens when bilirubin builds up faster than the liver can break it down and pass it from the body.
Most types of jaundice go away on their own. Others need treatment to lower bilirubin levels.
A baby with jaundice has skin that looks yellow. It starts on the face, then the chest and stomach, and then the legs. The whites of a baby’s eyes also look yellow. Babies with very high bilirubin levels may be sleepy, fussy, floppy, or have trouble feeding.
Jaundice may be hard to see, especially in babies with dark skin. If you’re unsure, gently press the skin on your baby’s nose or forehead. If it’s jaundice, the skin will appear yellow when you lift your finger.
Call the doctor if your baby:
Most healthy newborns have physiological (“normal”) jaundice. This happens because newborns have more blood cells than adults do. These blood cells don’t live as long, so more bilirubin is made when they break down. This kind of jaundice appears 2–4 days after the baby is born and goes away by the time a baby is 2 weeks old.
A baby is more likely to get jaundice when he or she:
Doctors can tell if a baby has jaundice based on a yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes. All newborns are checked for jaundice before leaving the hospital or birth center.
Babies with jaundice will get a blood test to check bilirubin levels. Sometimes, a light machine that measures bilirubin in the skin is used. But if the level is high, a blood test must confirm the result.
High bilirubin levels can lead to serious problems. So doctors carefully watch babies with jaundice.
Treatment depends on the cause of the jaundice, the bilirubin levels, and a baby’s age.
Mild jaundice goes away after 1 or 2 weeks as a baby’s body gets rid of the extra bilirubin on its own. For newborns with breastfeeding jaundice, mothers should breastfeed the baby more often. If the baby is not getting enough breast milk, the doctor may suggest supplementing with formula.
For more serious cases of jaundice, treatment should start as soon as possible. Babies may get:
Call the doctor if your baby has jaundice that isn’t going away. Babies with jaundice for longer than 2 weeks need more testing to check for other things that cause jaundice. These include infections, and problems with the liver or bile system, metabolism, or genes.
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Doctors may order bilirubin blood tests for infants or older kids if they see signs of the skin taking on the yellow discoloration known as jaundice.
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Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.
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