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Beginnings: Pregnancy, Birth & Beyond

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Your newborn: Jaundice

a baby with jaundice

Jaundice symptoms can start as late as five to seven days after birth. The most common age a baby will develop jaundice is between 3 and 7 days old.

Jaundice means that the skin, the whites of the eyes, the mucous membranes in the mouth, and some tissues in the body are yellowish.

Jaundice is caused by an increase in bilirubin, a substance that results from the breakdown of red blood cells.

Babies normally are born with more red blood cells than they will need after birth. As their bodies get rid of these extra red blood cells, bilirubin is produced. When the bilirubin is deposited in tissues, it causes a yellowish color.

Tip

Symptoms of jaundice can start as late as five to seven days after birth.

Warning

Call your baby's health care provider right away if your baby's skin, the whites of her eyes, or inside her mouth turn a little yellow.

As your baby begins to get rid of the bilirubin, the jaundice will go away. This takes several days.

Your baby's health care provider and nurses will look for signs of jaundice while your baby is in the hospital. If your baby's eyes or skin turn a yellowish color after you are home, call your baby's health care provider and make an appointment.

The treatment for jaundice is simple. Feed your baby often. This helps her get rid of the bilirubin in stools and urine.

Some babies need to spend time under special lights to help break down the bilirubin. These lights look like fluorescent bulbs or are part of a special fiberoptic blanket.

Usually, newborn jaundice is not harmful and goes away without treatment. But, very high levels of bilirubin can cause serious problems, such as brain damage.

If your baby's eyes or skin turn a yellowish color after you are home, call your baby’s health care provider right away.


 

Source: Allina Health's Patient Education Department, Beginnings: Pregnancy, Birth and Beyond, sixth edition, preg-ahc-90026, ISBN 1-931876-25-8

First published: 04/01/2002
Last updated: 01/23/2013

Reviewed by: Allina Health's Patient Education Department experts