Jaundice in Babies

Newborn jaundice is very common in the first two weeks of a baby’s life. It is usually harmless but may be due to a serious cause which needs treatment in hospital. Neonatal jaundice is more likely to have a serious cause if it is seen in the first 24 hours of life or doesn’t disappear by 2 weeks of age. After your baby is born, the doctors/nurses will keep an eye on your baby’s wellbeing. The good news is, most cases of jaundice are normal, short term and nothing to worry about.

However, if your baby’s jaundice appears to be excessive, a particular treatment will be recommended to help get things back under control. You might have heard from friends and relatives about their newborns’ jaundice treatments. You might wonder if you should be worried or if treatment is really necessary.

Here is some information to help you understand more about newborn jaundice.

What Is Jaundice?

Jaundice appears as yellow colouring of the skin and the white part of the eyes. The yellow colouring is due to bilirubin that is made when red blood cells are broken down.


Types of Jaundice

Normal Physiological Jaundice

Newborns get ‘physiological’ jaundice. When something is ‘physiological’ is means it is normal. This happens because newborns have more red blood cells that get broken down more rapidly than in adults, and newborns have less of the enzyme that converts bilirubin into the form that their body can get rid of via their poo.

This type of jaundice is normal and nothing to be worried about.

Breastmilk Jaundice

Breastmilk jaundice is a common form of jaundice in breastfed babies and is also physiological. It is due to one or more (unidentified) factors in breastmilk which increase the amount of bilirubin that gets back into the bloodstream rather than moving onto the liver and then coming out in the poo. This does not mean there is something wrong with your milk or that breastfeeding should stop.

Breastmilk jaundice is only seen once a baby is drinking larger amounts of breastmilk. Hence it typically only occurs from about day 5 onwards.

Breastmilk jaundice is really just an extension of normal physiological jaundice and can last as long as a few months. A baby with breastmilk jaundice is otherwise well and healthy.

Sometimes breastfeeding mothers are advised to temporarily stop breastfeeding and give their baby formula for 24 hours. This is done to confirm if the baby has breastmilk jaundice (which is harmless) or not. If within the 24 hours, the baby’s bilirubin levels drop, then your baby (most likely) has breastmilk jaundice.

Not-Enough Breastmilk Jaundice

Not-enough-breastmilk jaundice is due to a baby not getting enough breastmilk. One sign that a baby might not be getting enough is if they don’t poo enough. If they don’t poo enough, not as much bilirubin gets removed. This type of jaundice may be a problem as early as the second or third day after birth, but never on day one.

A baby with not-enough breastmilk jaundice may:

  • Not have been fed often enough
  • Not be feeding well
  • Have tongue tie

This type of jaundice will often sort itself out once the baby starts getting more breastmilk. A midwife can help you work out what might be going on and then help to work out a plan for helping your baby to get more breastmilk.

When should I worry about jaundice in my baby?

If your baby is back at home, and his/her jaundice has not cleared up within two weeks despite following your doctor’s advice, you should talk to your doctor right away. Keep an eye out for the following symptoms as well:

  • Does your baby have fever?
  • Is he/she feeding well?
  • Are his/her stools very pale (almost clay or white in colour)?
  • Is the jaundice turning into a darker shade of yellow?
  • Is the urine getting dark coloured?

If you experience any of the listed symptoms, please take your baby to the hospital as soon as possible.


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