Newborn Jaundice: All You Need to Know

Newborn Jaundice: All You Need to Know

Worried about newborn jaundice? Let’s look at the symptoms, what it looks like (for all skin tones), causes, and how you can help.
If your new baby’s skin has turned yellow in color, you may be looking at a case of newborn jaundice.

Is jaundice serious in newborns? In most cases, no.

The good news is that baby jaundice normally clears up on its own in a couple of weeks.

And if it does prove a bit stubborn, there are some really effective jaundice treatments that can quickly get rid of it.

Occasionally, though, newborn jaundice can be a sign of a more serious underlying health condition.

So knowing how to spot jaundice can help make sure your baby gets the treatment they need as soon as possible.

Let’s take a look at the key facts about newborn jaundice: symptoms, causes, and treatment.

In this article: 📝

  • What is jaundice in a newborn baby?
  • Newborn jaundice symptoms
  • What causes jaundice in newborn babies?
  • How long does it take for jaundice to go away in newborns?
  • When should I be concerned about my newborn’s jaundice?
  • How do you treat jaundice in newborns?

What is jaundice in a newborn baby?

There are a few different types of baby jaundice that can affect newborns in their first week:

  • Breastfeeding jaundice: If baby doesn’t get a good latch or, for some other reason, doesn’t get enough breast milk (if you choose to breastfeed), they may develop breastfeeding jaundice.
  • Physiological jaundice: This type of baby jaundice tends to occur within the first couple of days of baby’s life and is usually because their liver is continuing to develop to get better at filtering excess bilirubin (more on that later).
  • Breast milk jaundice: No, not quite breastfeeding jaundice ‒ breast milk jaundice is when the chemicals that make up your breast milk might affect the way baby’s liver processes bilirubin.
  • Pathologic jaundice: Also known as pathological jaundice in newborns, this is the term used for babies who develop jaundice in the first 24 hours after birth.

How to pronounce “jaundice”

Wondering what the “jaundice” pronunciation is?

It’s “jawn-diss” or “john-diss”.

Is jaundice contagious?

No, newborn jaundice isn’t contagious ‒ it’s very rare for baby to pass jaundice over to you, unless it’s caused by a contagious underlying health condition.

Newborn jaundice symptoms

The symptoms of jaundice in newborns tend to develop around 2–3 days after birth, although it can take a little longer to see jaundice in premature babies – around 5–7 days.

The most common symptoms are:

  • Yellowing of your baby’s skin, starting in their face or head and sometimes spreading down to other parts of their body. Jaundice feet may have a yellow-ish tinge, but it is rare for some body parts to look yellow-y, like a jaundice tongue.
  • Yellowing of the whites of your baby’s eyes, known as jaundice eyes.
  • Dark, yellow urine (which should be clear).
  • Pale-colored poop (which should be more yellow or orange).
  • Sleepiness or not sleeping at all.
  • Problems with feeding.

If you notice any of these symptoms, get in touch with your healthcare provider, as your baby might need treatment.

Your baby should be examined by your healthcare provider within 72 hours after birth to detect signs of jaundice.

It’s also recommended for them to be examined again at a follow-up appointment around 3-5 days after birth.

You can check your baby for jaundice at home, too, by gently pressing a finger on their skin and looking to see if the area appears more yellow.

What does jaundice in dark skin babies look like?

Jaundice in black babies and darker-skinned babies can be tricky to spot ‒ especially since the ‘medical standard’ is almost exclusive to caucasian babies.

If your baby’s skin is a darker tone, it can be easier to spot the yellow color of jaundice if you look at the palms of their hands, the soles of their feet, or inside their mouth.

Here are some handy illustrations to help you detect jaundice on babies with different skin tones:

Newborn jaundice on different skin tones

How much jaundice is normal in newborn?

Baby jaundice is a really common condition that affects around 60% of all newborn babies, and 80% of preemies.

So if your newborn has jaundice, try not to blame yourself, mama ‒ you’ve done nothing wrong.

What does jaundice poop look like?

Jaundice baby poop tends to look yellow-ish or pale.

If you’re worried about your baby’s poop, feel free to check out our fact-checked guide: Baby Poop: Your Expert Guide.

Do babies with jaundice sleep a lot?

Does jaundice make babies sleepy? Yes, it can, although not always.

Lethargy and fussiness are both symptoms of newborn jaundice.

Does jaundice affect weight gain in newborns?

Not often, no ‒ newborn jaundice tends to cause maybe a little weight loss or doesn’t impact baby’s weight at all.

It’s worth noting that babies put on weight fairly quickly in their first year, so weight gain is perfectly normal, and all part of baby’s growth.

What causes jaundice in newborn babies?

Newborn jaundice happens when a yellow-colored chemical called bilirubin builds up in your baby’s blood.

This is also called hyperbilirubinemia.

Bilirubin is produced by the red blood cells (the cells that carry oxygen around the body) when they’re broken down.

This is happening all the time in your body: old red blood cells breaking down and new ones taking their place.

And the bilirubin is normally taken care of by the liver, which processes it and sends it to the intestines, so it can be removed from the body when you poop.

A newborn baby has loads more red blood cells than you do, which means more bilirubin when they break down.

The problem is that their liver isn’t quite as on the ball as yours is yet – so it doesn’t always do such a great job processing the bilirubin.

The result? The bilirubin hangs around in your baby’s blood, making their skin appear yellow: newborn jaundice.

Can 1-month-old babies get jaundice?

While jaundice tends to affect newborn babies in their first week, sometimes it can stick around for around a month.

But if you’re worried about your baby getting jaundice outside of their first week, or it’s hanging around for longer than anticipated, it’s best to pay a visit to your pediatrician.

How long does it take for jaundice to go away in newborns?

For most babies, newborn jaundice will naturally disappear within about 10-14 days after birth.

That’s because their liver is now doing a much better job at getting rid of the bilirubin.

For preemies, jaundice can linger a bit longer – around 3 weeks.

If you’re breastfeeding your baby, you may find that jaundice sticks around for a month or so.

Breastfed babies are also at higher risk of developing jaundice in the first place.

This may be because of particular substances in breast milk (which could affect the liver’s ability to deal with the bilirubin), or it may be to do with feeding problems.

It’s important to note, though, that the benefits of breastfeeding are considered to outweigh the risk of getting jaundice.

So if you’re devoted to the idea of breastfeeding your baby, don’t be discouraged.

Can jaundice go away on its own in newborns?

Yes, most mild cases of newborn jaundice tend to go away on their own in about 1-2 weeks, but sometimes it can stick around.

If you’re breastfeeding, it can help to feed baby a little more often so they can get the nutrients they need to continue to grow.

When should I be concerned about my newborn’s jaundice?

So if you’re dealing with jaundice in babies, when to worry?

If your baby’s jaundice is taking a long time to go away (also known as prolonged jaundice in newborns), or if you’re concerned about their symptoms, it’s best to get in touch with your healthcare provider.

In some extremely rare cases, if left untreated, high levels of bilirubin can cause a condition called kernicterus.

It happens when the bilirubin enters the baby’s brain, and can lead to brain damage.

Severe jaundice could also be a sign of an underlying health condition, such as:

  • A urinary tract infection (UTI)
  • Sepsis (a blood infection)
  • Biliary atresia (a problem with the bile ducts and gallbladder)
  • Enzyme deficiency (enzymes help with essential chemical reactions in your body)
  • Rhesus factor disease (where antibodies in your blood attack your baby’s blood cells)

So, although newborn jaundice is harmless for most babies, it’s worth touching base with your healthcare provider if you’re worried.

They will be able to test your baby’s bilirubin levels and check for other health issues, so that they can diagnose the right treatment.

How can I tell if my baby jaundice is getting worse?

There are a few signs to look out for with newborn jaundice ‒ if you notice any of the following, visit your doctor immediately:

  • Baby’s skin looking more yellow.
  • The newborn jaundice lasting more than a month.
  • Baby has a fever.
  • Baby isn’t feeding well for more than a day.

Is jaundice serious in newborns?

More often than not, no, newborn jaundice isn’t serious and will go away in a week or two.

But sometimes it can be more serious, so it’s worth checking in with your doctor to see what the next best steps are for you and your baby.

How long does a baby have to stay in the hospital for jaundice?

In most cases, a baby with jaundice won’t have to go to hospital as it’ll pass in 1-2 weeks.

But for some babies, particularly premature babies, they may need some sort of hospital treatment.

The good news is that the jaundice treatment in hospital doesn’t take long ‒ usually about 1-2 days.

How do you treat jaundice in newborns?

There are two really effective treatments for newborn jaundice, which help your baby’s body process all that extra bilirubin.

Both of these jaundice treatments take place in a hospital. They are:

  • Phototherapy. Your baby is undressed (apart from their diaper) and either laid under a special lamp or on top of a blanket containing fiberoptic cables. When the light from the lamp or cables shines on your baby’s skin, it breaks down the bilirubin so it can be processed by the liver more easily. Don’t worry – the light is completely painless!
  • Exchange transfusion. In this process, your baby’s blood is gradually removed and in its place, they receive blood from a donor. With this new blood, your baby gets lots of lovely new red blood cells and at the same time, their bilirubin levels are reduced.

If your baby’s jaundice is caused by an underlying health condition, they may also need additional treatment to sort that out.

What is the fastest way to cure jaundice in newborns?

Well, what works as a fast newborn jaundice treatment for one baby may not be as effective for another baby.

But phototherapy can be a ‘quick’ hospital treatment for baby jaundice ‒ most babies who undergo this treatment are allowed home in a couple of days.

If you’re after a ‘fast’ newborn jaundice treatment at home, then sunlight may just be your new best friend.

Try putting baby near a window that gets sunlight for 10-15 minutes twice a day for milder cases of baby jaundice.

Just be sure not to leave them there for too long, or in direct sunlight, as that can cause sun damage.

Is phototherapy effective for jaundice?

Yes, phototherapy can be effective for treating baby jaundice ‒ speak with your doctor if you’re worried about your baby’s jaundice to see what they recommend.

How long do jaundice babies need phototherapy?

Typical phototherapy treatment for newborn jaundice at the hospital tends to take 24-48 hours.

Is phototherapy painful for baby?

No, phototherapy for baby jaundice doesn’t cause any harm to your newborn ‒ there’s no danger of UVA or UVB rays causing damage to your baby’s skin.

Does phototherapy darken baby’s skin?

Yes, phototherapy for newborn jaundice may temporarily darken your baby’s skin, or make it turn a slightly gray color.

It’s nothing to be worried about and should go back to normal in a few weeks.

What can I do to help with newborn jaundice?

Newborn jaundice is a passing phase for most babies, and they’ll soon be back to their natural skin tone.

But if you spot any concerning symptoms, don’t hesitate to contact your healthcare provider.

One thing that may help with some cases of jaundice is to make sure your baby is getting plenty of milk.

If they’re feeding enough and staying hydrated, their body should find it easier to flush out the excess bilirubin when they poop.

And if you’re having any problems with feeding, reach out to your healthcare provider to see what support is available.

Does sunlight help newborn jaundice?

Yes, indirect sunlight for jaundice can be an effective at-home treatment.

Just be sure not to put your baby in direct sunlight as it can cause skin damage, or leave them even in indirect sunlight for longer than 15 minutes.

Do vitamin D drops help with jaundice?

Does vitamin D help with jaundice?

Well, according to this study in 2021, vitamin D can be effective in “reducing bilirubin levels in jaundice neonates”, so yes, vitamin D can help with newborn jaundice.

As for vitamin D drops, specifically? Yes, they’re likely to help with baby jaundice.

This 2016 study (although only with 60 newborns) suggests that using vitamin D serums or drops can help babies get over jaundice.

Keen to try vitamin D drops for baby jaundice? These Baby Ddrops are among the favorites of our mamas on Peanut.

What should mother eat when baby has jaundice?

There’s a bit of debate as to whether the food your eating as part of your breastfeeding diet contributes to baby jaundice.

Essentially, unless you’re eating things things that aren’t safe for you or baby, or if you’re eating ‘too much’ or ‘too little’ of certain foods, the foods you’re eating aren’t likely to cause your baby’s jaundice.

But if you stick with a balanced breastfeeding diet, that should benefit both you and baby.

What should mother avoid when baby has jaundice?

As we mentioned earlier, it’s generally best to eat a balanced diet when breastfeeding to help avoid jaundice or help baby recover from jaundice.

But there are some things that it can be beneficial to avoid while breastfeeding a jaundice baby or try to cut down:

  • Alcohol
  • Excessive amounts of meat
  • Foods that are high in saturated fats

Is formula better for jaundice?

Interestingly, babies who are breastfed are more likely to get jaundice compared to babies who are formula-fed.

But there’s always a chance your newborn could get jaundice, regardless of how you choose to feed them ‒ sometimes, it’s completely unavoidable.

And as for whether you choose to formula-feed or breastfeed?

Well, that’s entirely your choice, mama.

Is breastmilk good for jaundice?

If you’re already breastfeeding and your baby has jaundice, it’s recommended to continue.

The only thing to consider is that you may have to increase the frequency of your breastfeeding sessions, as baby may not be feeding as well.

What is “jaundice” in Spanish?

If you’re in a Spanish-speaking family or you have a Spanish-speaking doctor, it’s worth knowing the translation for “newborn jaundice” in Spanish.

“Jaundice” is “ictericia” (pronounced “ik-ter-ee-thee-a”).

“Newborn jaundice” is “ictericia del recién nacido” (pronounced “ik-ter-ee-thee-a del reh-thee-en na-thee-doh”).

If you’re looking after a baby with newborn jaundice, we feel for you, mama.

It can be worrying, but know that you’re doing all that you can, and you’re doing great.

We’re with you.

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