Newborn Jaundice: Should I Be Worried?

By Amanda Roland

Jaundice is caused by an excess amount of bilirubin in the baby’s blood. Bilirubin is a yellow pigment in red blood cells, and if your new baby’s liver can’t remove the bilirubin from the blood, the yellow pigment will present on the skin. In a newborn, jaundice will cause a yellow discoloration of the skin and eyes, according to the Mayo Clinic. 

All newborns get a thorough check at the hospital after birth, and one of the things they check for is jaundice. Most cases are mild, can be easily treated and typically last no more than two weeks. In the instance of your newborn having severe jaundice, your doctors will instruct you on the next steps, which may include a longer stay in the hospital. Infant jaundice can be treated in a few different ways: 

Specialized Feeding Schedule 

Feeding your newborn eight to 12 times a day will help them stay hydrated and able to pass the built-up bilirubin, according to Healthline, an online health resource. Whether breastfeeding or formula feeding, talk to your doctor about how often you should be feeding your newborn based on your child’s condition. 


During phototherapy, your newborn is placed under blue spectrum light with special eye coverings, and the bilirubin in your baby’s blood can be managed through photo-oxidation. 

“Photo-oxidation adds oxygen to the bilirubin so it dissolves easily in water,” according to the National Health Service (NHS). “This makes it easier for your baby’s liver to break down and remove the bilirubin from their blood.” Phototherapy is typically used periodically over one to two days until bilirubin levels stabilize. 


For severe cases of newborn jaundice, exchange transfusions might be necessary, according to the Mayo Clinic. Small amounts of blood will be taken and replaced with donor blood, reducing the amount of bilirubin in the newborn’s blood. This treatment is rare and typically used as a last resort if other treatments do not work. 

Intravenous Immunoglobulin (IVIG) 

If your newborn’s jaundice is due to a blood type issue, aka rhesus disease, this treatment might be needed. Rhesus disease is when the mother has rhesus-negative blood and the baby has rhesus-positive blood, according to the NHS. This disease causes the baby to carry antibodies that can cause the rapid breakdown of their red blood cells. “Intravenous transfusion of an immunoglobulin — a blood protein that can reduce levels of antibodies — may decrease jaundice and lessen the need for an exchange transfusion,” according to the Mayo Clinic. 


60% of babies are born with jaundice. 

About 3 in 5 babies have this very common condition, according to the March of Dimes. Thankfully, because jaundice is so common in newborns, doctors know exactly what to do to keep your baby healthy, and in some cases they may not require any treatment at all. 


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