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Signs of Jaundice

Jaundice is a temporary condition that happens when a newborn’s liver is still immature and not yet able to help the body get rid of bilirubin. Bilirubin is a substance that is found in the red blood cells. It can build up after birth as a result of the normal breakdown of red blood cells. If bilirubin levels get too high, they can be dangerous to your baby's developing brain and nervous system. That is why it is important to check babies who have signs of jaundice to make sure the bilirubin level does not become unsafe. An immature liver is normal at this stage of your baby’s growth. It will quickly begin to remove bilirubin from the body. Almost half of all newborns show some signs of jaundice, such as yellow skin or eyes.

Image of baby

What to watch for

If a baby has jaundice, the skin or whites of the eyes turn yellow. Press lightly on your baby's forehead with your finger for a few seconds, then release. This makes it easier to see the yellow under your baby's skin color. It usually shows up 3 to 4 days after birth. Premature babies are especially at risk.

What to do

Image of baby breastfeeding

Always call your baby’s health care provider if you see any of the signs of jaundice. In some cases, it may be severe and may threaten a baby’s health. Your health care provider may recommend:

  • Breastfeeding your baby often. This means at least 8 to 10 times every 24 hours. If you are not breastfeeding, talk with your baby's health care provider about how much formula you should feed your baby.

  • Treating jaundice with special lights (phototherapy) at home or in the hospital. Your baby's health care provider can tell you more about phototherapy if it is needed.


When to seek medical care

Call your baby’s health care provider if you notice any of the following:

  • Your baby is feeding less

  • Your baby seems more sleepy and is difficult to wake up

  • Your baby is having fewer wet diapers

  • Your baby is crying and can't be calmed

  • Your baby has yellowish skin or in the whites of his or her eyes

  • If your child's health care provider has already seen your baby for jaundice, but now the yellow color has moved below the belly button. Jaundice usually moves from head to toe as the level rises.


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