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What to do when your newborn baby has jaundice

Marie-Louise - expert midwife and author

6 minutes

09/06/2021

Modern midwife, Marie-Louise tells new parents what to do if they are seeing yellow

  1. What is newborn baby jaundice?

  2. What causes newborn baby jaundice?

  3. What are the symptoms of newborn baby jaundice?

  4. How common is newborn baby jaundice?

  5. Treating newborn baby jaundice - what options are available?

1. What is newborn baby jaundice?

After birth, your newborn baby will be examined for a common condition called jaundice, which is usually marked by yellowing in the skin and or the whites of the eyes. While it may seem alarming to new parents, it is in fact very common, and more often than not, nothing to worry about. Newborn baby jaundice may require treatment, so, as with everything related to newborns, a little knowledge goes a long way.

2. What causes newborn baby jaundice?

Newborns have immature livers, which must work much harder to remove toxins and other substances from the blood. Bilirubin, a yellow substance released by red blood cells when they break down, is one such substance. Because newborns have a high volume of red blood cells, they also have a lot of bilirubin in their system. Their developing livers can’t always process all of it and the excess bilirubin can build up and cause babies to turn yellow1 , and this is what is known as newborn baby jaundice.

3. What are the symptoms of newborn baby jaundice?

While yellowing skin and eyes are a sign of newborn baby jaundice, there can also be other symptoms. Your baby’s urine, which is typically clear, may be abnormally dark and yellow, while his or her poo may appear pale. Symptoms don’t tend to appear within 24 hours but if you notice these symptoms within that time it’s really important to seek medical advice. Newborn baby jaundice tends to appear within two to three days after birth, which is why your baby’s healthcare team will look for jaundice at around 72 hours – as a midwife, it is something I have seen plenty of times and your midwife will know exactly what to look for and how to manage it. But, if at home you notice that symptoms of jaundice get worse, or that your baby isn’t feeding as usual, becomes lethargic or you have any other concerns over your babies behaviour it’s advisable to call your midwife or GP as soon as possible1.

4. How common is newborn baby jaundice?

You’ll certainly find that you’re not alone if your newborn baby has jaundice; it’s one of the most common baby skin conditions among newborns. In fact, 6 out of 10 babies develop newborn baby jaundice – and that number climbs to 8 in 10 babies born before 37 weeks. Prevalence aside, only about 1 in 20 affected babies require treatment for their jaundice .

5. Treating newborn baby jaundice – what options are available?

The best news is that newborn baby jaundice tends to go away on its own in about two weeks, because that’s around the time it takes for babies’ livers to mature and get better at eliminating substances like bilirubin. However, treatment may be recommended if bilirubin levels remain very high, as there is a small chance that particularly elevated levels can cause brain damage. If your baby has higher levels there are two courses of action depending on how high they are in relation to your babies gestational age and weight:

  • Phototherapy, or light therapy, in which concentrated light shines on the skin to turn bilirubin into something more easily processed by babies’ livers - this is what my baby needed for a number of days.

  • A blood ‘exchange transfusion’, a procedure in which a tiny catheter is used to transfuse blood from a matching donor to your baby

If you ever have any concerns over your baby’s behaviour or health, it’s advisable to call your midwife or GP as soon as possible.

If you found our newborn baby jaundice article handy then be sure to look at our other in-depth articles on common baby skin conditions and baby advice on our Parenting Community, like the below:

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Remember:

If at home you notice that symptoms of jaundice get worse, or that your baby isn’t feeding as usual, becomes lethargic or you have any other concerns over your babies behaviour it’s advisable to call your midwife or GP as soon as possible.

References
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About the Author

Marie-Louise - expert midwife and author

Marie-Louise

Marie-Louise, the Modern Midwife, is an expert midwife and author. Alongside her professional interest, Marie-Louise has personal experience of going through the fourth trimester and now has a 1-year old daughter. She has been regularly documenting her experiences of parenthood on her Instagram the_modern_widwife.

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