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Signs of Jaundice

Jaundice is a temporary condition that occurs 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 and can build up after birth as a result of the normal breakdown of red blood cells. If bilirubin levels become 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 notice 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 the following:

  • Breastfeeding your baby often, at least 8 to 10 times every 24 hours. If you use formula, discuss feeding with your baby's health care provider.

  • Treating jaundice with phototherapy (treatment with special lights) 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 waken

  • Your baby is having fewer wet diapers

  • Your baby is crying and can't be calmed

  • A yellowish appearance to baby’s skin or to the whites of baby’s eyes

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


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