Jaundice in Babies

Jaundice is a condition that can occur in adults or in babies when the bilirubin levels in the blood increase above a certain level. This condition is caused when the red blood cells break down faster than the liver can excrete the bilirubin. The yellow skin, or jaundice, that results from the bilirubin may be a normal condition in a baby, but it is a condition that your baby’s pediatrician will want to follow. Once the condition occurs, there are many remedies and treatments that you can use.

Causes of Jaundice in Babies

It is important to know the possible causes and risk factors for jaundice in your baby. There are many possible causes of jaundice in babies:

Too Much Bilirubin (Hyperbilirubinemia)

The primary cause of jaundice in babies is an excess of bilirubin in the blood stream. This condition is referred to as hyperbilirubinemia. As red blood cells age, there is a normal break down releasing bilirubin into the blood. Since the baby’s liver is immature, it is not able to remove the bilirubin. Hence, most newborns will develop physiologic jaundice that usually appears two or three days after birth.

Other Causes

Other causes of jaundice in a baby may include: liver disease, abnormal red blood cells, bleeding internally, bacterial or viral infections, blood incompatibility between the mother and infant, or lack of certain enzymes.

Risk Factors of Jaundice in Babies

1. Bruising During Birth

If the baby has bruising from the birth process, red blood cells will be broken and more bilirubin will be released.

2. Premature Birth

Prematurity is one of the most common causes of jaundice because the liver will also be less well developed in a premature birth. A premature baby will also have fewer bowel movements which is the primary way bilirubin is excreted.

3. Being Poorly Breastfed

Finally, if your baby is not breastfeeding well, dehydration may cause an increased risk of jaundice. It is thus important to ensure that you baby is breastfed well and get the calories and nutritions needed.

4. Blood Type Different from the Mother’s

Occasionally, jaundice will develop if the baby’s blood type and mother’s blood type are different. This condition may cause red cells to break down more quickly releasing bilirubin more quickly.

Symptoms of Jaundice in Babies

It is important to understand the symptoms of jaundice and to know when you should take your baby in to see your healthcare provider.


  • The first thing you will notice in jaundice is that your baby’s facial skin will have a yellow tinge. Check for this by gently pressing on the baby’s forehead in natural sunlight; if the skin is yellow where you pressed, your baby probably has jaundice.
  • As the jaundice progresses, you will notice the white part of the eye will become yellow.
  • If the jaundice gets bad enough, you may begin to see yellowing of the skin of the arms, legs, and torso.

When to See a Doctor

Most cases of physiologic jaundice in a newborn are at their highest two to seven days after birth. Since many mothers and infants are discharged before that time, you should know the following symptoms to watch for:

  • The jaundice gets worse or does not go away within three weeks;
  • The whites of the baby’s eyes become yellow;
  • The skin on arms, legs or abdomen becomes yellow;
  • Jaundice lasting for more than 3 weeks;
  • Your baby is not eating well and is not gaining weight;
  • Your baby seems sick, is hard to wake up, or has high-pitched crying.

Home Remedies for Jaundice in Babies

Enough Natural Sunlight

It is likely that your baby will be discharged from the hospital with jaundice and that your healthcare provider will instruct you in a couple of home remedies for physiologic jaundice. First, many practitioners will recommend that your newborn gets plenty of natural light each day; do not expose the baby to direct sunlight, but be sure to open the shades in his room and let the natural light in.

Frequent Feeding—Breastfeeding & Supplemental Feeding

Feed frequently to be sure your baby has sufficient bowel movements to rid his body of bilirubin. If your baby is not breastfeeding well, be sure to keep him hydrated by offering additional bottle feedings. Offer your breast or a bottle every two hours. Remember that your newborn will need as many as 12 feedings of one to two ounces each day during the first week of his life.

Treatments of Jaundice in Babies

If your baby has mild jaundice, you can usually expect that it will not need treatment and will disappear within three weeks. If the jaundice is more severe, your healthcare provider may prescribe certain treatments:

1. Phototherapy (Light Therapy)

In the hospital, your baby may be placed under special lights that change the bilirubin molecules so the baby can excrete them more easily. Some hospitals may also have light-emitting pads that will do the same thing. Since these light rays can harm your baby’s eyes, the nurses will cover his eyes with a shield during the treatment.

2. IVIg (Intravenous Immunoglobulin)

If the jaundice is caused by incompatible blood types between the baby and mother, the baby might be give immunoglobulin through the vein that will combat the antibodies in the baby’s body. These antibodies can cause increased breakdown in red blood cells, so if the antibodies can be neutralized, the breakdown will be decreased.

3. Exchange Transfusion of Blood

If the baby’s jaundice is very severe and is not improved by the other treatments, your doctor may prescribe exchange blood transfusions. This is NOT a common procedure, but if the baby’s jaundice does not resolve, this may be done. In this procedure, small amounts of blood are taken from the baby, diluted, and then transfused back into the baby. Again, typically jaundice will respond to the other treatments and exchange transfusions will not be needed.

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