Everything you need to know about jaundice

Learn the facts about jaundice and how you can cope if your baby has it.

What is it?

Jaundice is a yellowish, greenish tinge to the skin and white of the eyes due to high bilirubin levels. It occurs in infants because the baby’s liver isn’t mature enough to process the levels of bilirubin in the bloodstream.

Symptoms

Symptoms usually appear in infants within two to four days after birth. They are:

  • Yellowing of the skin
  • Yellowing of the whites of the eyes

To check for jaundice, gently press the skin on your baby’s forehead in and see if it is yellow when it is released. 

Who does it affect?
  • Babies born before 38 weeks of gestation, or premature babies
  • Some breastfed babies, particularly those who are having difficulty nursing or getting enough nutrition after birth
  • Babies who have been bruised during delivery
  • Babies with a different blood type to their mothers
Complications

Symptoms of jaundice can sometimes be confused for symptoms of more serious conditions. Always check with your doctor if you think your baby could be unwell.

Some conditions that can cause jaundice are:

  • Internal bleeding
  • An infection in your baby’s blood
  • Other viral or bacterial infections
  • Incompatibility between mother’s blood and baby’s blood
  • A liver malfunction
  • Enzyme deficiency
  • Abnormality of your baby’s red blood cells causing them to break

Acute bilirubin encephalopathy

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If a baby has severe jaundice, bilirubin can pass to the brain. Bilirubin is toxic to cells in the brain, but prompt treatment can alleviate lasting damage.

Symptoms of acute bilirubin encephalopathy:

  • Listlessness, or difficulty waking
  • High pitched crying
  • Poor sucking or feeding
  • Backwards arching of the neck and body
  • Fever
  • Vomiting
When visiting your doctor

If you and your baby have been discharged from the hospital before 72 hours after your delivery, make sure you have a follow-up appointment with your doctor to check for jaundice. During your appointment, be prepared to answer the following questions:

  • How well is your baby feeding?
  • Do they take breast milk or formula?
  • How often do they feed?
  • How often do they need a nappy change?
  • Does your baby seem sick or weak?
  • Has baby’s temperature been stable?
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