Jaundice in Your Newborn

Here are some common questions and answers about jaundice in newborns.

What should I know about jaundice?

  • Most babies have some jaundice in the first week of life. This is normal.
  • If not watched, it can get worse and become a risk to the baby. This is rare.
  • When your baby is in the hospital, we will check for signs of jaundice. We will check before you take your baby home and at the clinic one to two  days later.
  • We check by looking at your baby’s skin color. We may also do a blood test.

What is jaundice?

  • Jaundice happens when there is too much bilirubin in the blood. Bilirubin is a natural substance.
  • Jaundice can make your baby’s skin and whites of the eyes yellow. This is harder to see in babies who have darker skin.

Why do babies develop jaundice?

  • All of us have a little bilirubin in our blood. Before birth, a mom’s liver gets rid of the bilirubin for the baby.
  • After birth, the baby’s liver cannot handle the bilirubin. It is natural for a baby’s bilirubin number to be high. This is not a danger to your baby.

Are some babies more at risk?

  • Yes. These groups of babies are at higher risk:
    • Babies who are born early – before 37 weeks.
    • Babies who were bruised at birth.
    • Babies with a brother or sister who had jaundice that needed treatment.
    • Babies with moms with certain blood types.
    • Babies with Middle Eastern, East Asian or Mediterranean ethnicity.

How can I tell if my baby has jaundice?

  • If your baby has fair skin, check the skin and eyes. If your baby has darker skin, it may be hard to tell.
  • Your baby may act sleepy and not feed well.
  • The best way to tell is to check the bilirubin number. We will be monitoring your baby for jaundice and check by a blood test on the second day of life.

What can I do to help the jaundice?

  • Bilirubin is removed in the stool. Feeding often can help as this will increase your baby’s poops.
  • Get help with breastfeeding if your baby is not latching well or falling asleep at the breast.
  • It will not help to give your baby formula or water.

What happens if the bilirubin number goes too high?

  • Jaundice often goes away on its own.
  • If the number gets too high, your baby will be put under special lights. The lights help break down the bilirubin so it can be cleared from the blood.