Infant Jaundice

What is Infant Jaundice?

Infant jaundice is characterized by a yellowing of the whites of the eyes and the skin. It is a common condition that affects more than 50% of newborns, especially preemies and breastfed infants. It is caused by too much bilirubin in the bloodstream and an immature liver. Newborn babies are not equipped to process the bilirubin. As it accumulates in the blood it causes telltale yellowing.

What are the Symptoms of Infant Jaundice?

Yellowing is most apparent when gentle pressure is applied to baby’s brow. After the finger is lifted, look for yellow discoloration in the area that was compressed. Visually examine the whites of the eyes as well. Check in a location that offers plenty of natural sunlight since artificial lighting can cast a yellow glow. The second and fourth day after birth is when infant jaundice usually appears. Hospitals typically check and monitor bilirubin levels before discharge. However, it should be visually monitored at home since it may not appear until after release.

Signs of severe infant jaundice or complications may include

  • Increased yellowing of the skin and eyes
  • Yellowing of the limbs and abdomen
  • Weakness
  • Lethargy
  • High-pitched cries
  • Lack of hunger
  • Infant jaundice that continues after three weeks
  • Breathing problems
  • Fever
  • Infant jaundice that appears before 24 hours after birth is a reason for concern

How is Infant Jaundice Treated?

Although less serious cases of infant jaundice do not require treatment, it can be caused by an underlying disorder or a blood incompatibility between the infant and the mother. No matter the basis, high bilirubin levels can be dangerous. Serious problems are rare, but it can cause kernicterus that can result in cerebral palsy, seizures and brain damage if not treated. Blood tests using a blood sample or special sensor are required to properly monitor bilirubin levels.

Treatment includes

  • Increased number of daily feedings
  • Supplemental formula feedings for breastfed babies
  • Light therapy in the hospital and/or at home
  • Immunoglobulin transfusion
  • Blood transfusions

Tests for serious disorders may be required if infant jaundice does not resolve itself within three weeks after birth or if severe symptoms occur.

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Last Reviewed:
September 21, 2016
Last Updated:
September 01, 2017