Expert Health Articles

Infant Jaundice

Dr. Jana Erner

Pediatric Hospitalist, Blanchard Valley Health System

Infant jaundice is a common condition in babies born before 38 weeks gestation and in some breastfed babies. Infant jaundice is a yellow discoloration in a newborn baby’s skin and eyes that results from an excess of bilirubin. Bilirubin is a yellow-colored pigment that is formed by the breakdown of red blood cells.

Infant jaundice usually occurs because a baby’s liver isn’t mature enough to get rid of the excess bilirubin in the baby’s bloodstream. Sometimes, an underlying disease might be the cause of jaundice. Jaundice usually appears between the second and fourth day of life. To check for jaundice, lightly press on your baby’s forehead or nose, and if the skin looks yellow where you pressed, it’s likely your baby has mild jaundice. Treatment of jaundice often isn’t necessary, and most cases that need treatment respond well to non-invasive phototherapy. Although rare, a high bilirubin level may cause brain damage.

Most hospitals have a policy of examining babies for jaundice before discharge. Your baby should be examined for jaundice between the third and seventh day after birth. If your baby is discharged earlier than 72 hours after delivery, make a follow-up appointment with your provider within 48 hours after discharge.

The following signs or symptoms may indicate severe jaundice or complications from jaundice. Call your doctor if:

  • Your baby’s skin looks yellow on the abdomen or legs
  • The whites of your baby’s eyes look yellow
  • Your baby seems listless or is difficult to awaken
  • Your baby is feeding poorly
  • Your baby has a decrease in urine or stool output
  • Your baby makes high pitched cries
  • Jaundice lasts longer than three weeks