Jaundice in infants

Jaundice in infants
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Jaundice is a very common condition in new-born babies. It is usually harmless but causes yellowing of the skin and also whites the eyes. The actual medical term stated for jaundice in new-born babies is ‘Neonatal jaundice’.

The symptoms of this jaundice usually develop in 2-3 days after the birth of the baby. Although, it tends to get better without treatment by the time the baby is about 2 weeks old.

Some common symptoms of ‘neonatal jaundice’ is –

  • Yellowing of palms of hands and also soles of the feet
  • Yellow (dark) urine (should be colorless)
  • Pale colored poop (should be yellow or orange)

Causes of New-born Jaundice

Neonatal jaundice typically occurs because new-borns normally produce increased levels of bilirubin – which is referred to as “physiologic jaundice.” Bilirubin, which is yellowish in color, is produced when red blood cells are broken down. Bilirubin is then removed from the bloodstream by the liver. In new-borns, the body may be likely to produce more bilirubin than the liver can process.

Physiologic jaundice usually appears within a few days after birth. It also resolves within two weeks of appearing. Other types of new-born jaundice can cause due to pre-maturity, problems related to breastfeeding, infection, or even blood type mismatch between mom and the baby (as well as other blood or liver problems).

A new-born check is typically scheduled with your pediatrician within the first few days of going home from the nursery to check for jaundice as many mothers leave the hospital soon after the delivery.


Can it be prevented?

There is no fixed way to prevent new-born jaundice.

Although, if your baby has jaundice, there are ways you can prevent it from becoming more severe:

  • You can make sure your baby is getting enough nutrition through breast milk. Make sure your baby is not dehydrated by feeding them around 8-12 times a day for the initial (several) days. It helps bilirubin pass through their body more quickly.
  • In case you are not breastfeeding and feeding your baby formula, you must give them 1 to 2 ounces of formula every 2 to 3 hours for the first week. Preterm or smaller babies may take smaller amounts of formula. Similarly, babies who are feeding through breast milk will also take small amounts. But you must talk to your doctor if you are concerned that your baby is taking too little or too much formula, or even if they won’t wake to feed at least 8 times per 24 hours.


How is it treated?

The mild jaundice will usually resolve on its own as and when the baby’s liver begins to mature. Also, frequent feedings (between 8 to 12 times a day) will help babies pass bilirubin through their bodies.

Although, more severe jaundice may require other treatments. Phototherapy is a common and highly effective method of treatment. It uses light to break down bilirubin in your baby’s body.

In phototherapy – your baby will be placed on a special bed under a blue spectrum light. They will be wearing only a diaper and also special protective goggles. A fibre-optic blanket may also be placed underneath your baby.

In very severe cases, an exchange transfusion may be necessary. At this stage the baby receives small amounts of blood from a donor or a blood bank. This replaces the baby’s damaged blood with healthy red blood cells. It also increases the baby’s red blood cells count and reduces bilirubin levels.


It is very important to contact your doctor if you notice signs of jaundice in your baby. If you suspect jaundice (if the skin seems yellow when you press it) you will need to see your doctor that same day.

While jaundice is usually very treatable, in the most extreme cases it can cause brain damage.