newborn jaundice:
causes, symptoms and treatment

If your newborns skin has taken on a yellow tinge, there's no need to panic. They might have jaundice, which affects around six in ten British babies, and is usually harmless. As always when it comes to your little one's health, it's best to get clued up on the symptoms and potential serious complications so you know what to do when you spot it.

baby with jaundice receiving uv treatment

what are the symptoms of jaundice?

As well as their skin and the whites of their eyes turning yellow, your baby's poo might turn a pale colour, while their wee will become darker. A newborn's pee should be colourless, and their poo should be a nice shade of yellow or orange.

You'll probably notice these symptoms around two or three days after birth, and usually they clear up by themselves after two weeks. The symptoms come on later after birth if your little one was premature, and they last for around a week longer. Breastfeeding can also prolong jaundice, and some symptoms might stick around for a couple of months.

baby with jaundice
baby with jaundice

when should i ring the doctor?

Your baby will be checked for jaundice at their newborn physical exam, around 72 hours after you they arrive in the world. If they develop jaundice after that, get in touch with your midwife, GP or health visitor as soon as you can.

If they're diagnosed with jaundice but are allowed to go home, keep an eye on their symptoms. If they get worse, it's best to get in touch with your doctor right away. You should also speak to a healthcare professional if baby's not keen on eating.

what causes jaundice?

In newborn babies, jaundice usually happens due to a buildup of a yellow substance called bilirubin in their blood. Bilirubin is a by-product, made when red blood cells break down.

Jaundice is common in newborns because they have lots of red blood cells, and their tiny liver isn't quite big or strong enough yet to get rid of all the bilirubin being made. Sometimes jaundice can be the sign of a more serious health condition such as a urinary tract infection, rhesus factor disease, and hypothyroidism (an under-active thyroid).

can i cure jaundice at home?

As your baby's liver gets bigger and stronger, it gets better at disposing of the bilirubin. This is why jaundice usually clears up by itself. Your doctor might decide to treat your baby if they have really high levels of bilirubin in their blood, as this can lead to brain damage.

There are two main types of treatment, and both take place in hospital. The first is a blood transfusion, and the second is phytotherapy. This involves shining a light on the skin, which makes it easier for the liver to break down the bilirubin.

what are the longterm side effects?

Although most forms of jaundice are harmless and play out with no complications, high levels of bilirubin can lead to kernicterus: a form of brain damage. It's super rare, with only one in every 100,000 babies developing it. Early symptoms of this illness include loss of appetite, floppiness, and baby not reacting to the world around them. It needs to be treated as soon as possible to avoid any permanent and long-lasting effects.