Jaundice in babies
Jaundice in babies
Key points to remember
- jaundice means yellow skin
- mild jaundice is common in newborn babies – it starts on the second or third day and settles over seven to ten days
- there are many causes of jaundice
- some types of jaundice are serious
- jaundice that appears in the first 24 hours after birth is not normal – it must be checked out
- jaundice that is still present after two weeks of age should be checked out with a blood test
- severe jaundice can be serious – with correct early treatment long-term problems are rare
What is jaundice?
What is bilirubin?
Why do babies get jaundiced?
How do I know if my baby’s jaundice is normal?
Jaundice is likely to be normal, if your baby:
- becomes jaundiced after the first 24 hours of life
- wakes up of their own accord to demand feeds
looks well and feeds well
has dirty nappies (bowel motions) that are yellow or green (not pale, white or light beige) in colour. See the Stool colour chart at the UK Children's Liver Disease Foundation website
As the bilirubin level gets higher, your baby:
- will become more obviously yellow over the whole body
- may be sleepy and slow to wake up for feeding
- may feed less well
How long will the jaundice last?
When should I seek help?
- jaundice which started in the first 24 hours of life
- jaundice lasting more than two weeks
- your baby is jaundiced and has pale bowel motions (stools)
- your baby is unwell or is becoming increasingly yellow over their entire body
What if my baby is jaundiced in the first 24 hours of life?
What if my baby is still jaundiced at two weeks of age?
What if my baby is jaundiced and has pale bowel motions?
- be jaundiced
- have pale bowel motions
- have dark coloured urine
- may look otherwise well
What if my baby is jaundiced and unwell?
You should call your midwife or GP (general practitioner) urgently if your baby is jaundiced and:
- looks sick
- is jittery (trembling)
- has an unusual cry
- is becoming more obviously yellow over their whole body
- is sleepy and slow to wake up for feeds
- is feeding poorly
- is getting dehydrated (dry) - signs include not wetting nappies
You should also talk to your midwife or GP if your baby:
- has not passed meconium (the first black bowel motion) by the second day
- is at increased risk of severe jaundice (see What puts my child at risk of getting severe jaundice?)
What puts my child at risk of getting severe jaundice?
There are a number of conditions that increase the chance of your baby getting jaundiced. These include:
- incompatibilities between the mother’s and the baby’s blood types (Rhesus disease, and ABO incompatibility)
- some inherited conditions (G6PD deficiency, hereditary spherocytosis and others)
- prematurity (your baby is born early)
- infection that begins before or after birth
- many other uncommon medical conditions such as cystic fibrosis and thyroid disorders
What is Rhesus disease?
What is ABO incompatibility?
What is G6PD deficiency?
How is jaundice diagnosed?
- if the jaundice appears before 24 hours of age
if your baby is very yellow
if the jaundice lasts more than two weeks
if there are other concerns
What treatments are available?
Are there likely to be any complications?
normal (physiological) jaundice in the newborn does not cause complications
breast milk jaundice does not cause any complications
liver disease occasionally causes prolonged jaundice
prolonged jaundice (over two weeks) can sometimes be a clue to another condition and should be investigated
Thank you to Babylink for allowing use of the phototherapy photo.
© Paediatric Society of New Zealand and Starship Foundation 2005 – 2013
Printed on 23 May 2013. Content is regularly updated so please refer to www.kidshealth.org.nz for the most up-to-date version