Written by Caroline Meyer

Newborn jaundice is quite common and presents as a yellowing of the baby’s skin and the whites of the eyes. Newborn jaundice occurs when the baby has a high level of bilirubin in their bloodstream which is produced when red blood cells break down, causing a yellowish pigment. Adults and older children process bilirubin through the liver and pass it out through the intestines. Newborn babies may not always have a mature enough liver to remove bilirubin from their systems. In most cases the jaundice fades after a few days as the liver starts to break it down. Once baby is feeding well, the jaundice is usually come within 3 weeks. Jaundice that persists for longer than this may be a sign that there is an underlying condition. 

Levels of bilirubin that remain high for extended periods put your baby at risk for cerebral palsy, deafness and certain types of brain damage. All newborn babies should be checked for jaundice before discharge from the hospital or within a day or two of birth. They should subsequently be checked at around 5 days old as well. 

Risk factors 

Newborn jaundice is most often seen in babies that are born prematurely, usually before 37 weeks gestation. Babies who are having problems feeding or are not getting enough milk. Babies who have a blood type with is incompatible with their mother can also have a rise in bilirubin due to antibodies building up in their system and breaking down red blood cells. Internal bleeding and bruising can also be a factor for jaundice in newborns. Infections, liver problems, red blood cell abnormalities and enzyme deficiencies can all cause newborn jaundice. There is unfortunately no way to determine beforehand if your baby will have jaundice and no way to prevent it from happening. 


The most obvious symptom is the yellowing of the eyes and skin. It would usually start from 2 to 4 days after baby is born and is usually noticed on the face first before it spreads to the rest of the body. The jaundice normally reaches a peak at 3 to 7 days after baby was born. If you push down gently on the skin and the area appears yellow, your baby probably has jaundice. 

When to be concerned 

Jaundice is common and considered normal in most babies with the condition. For a few however, there may be a medical condition causing the jaundice. Severe jaundice can lead to permanent brain damage so if you are at all concerned, contact your doctor. If the jaundice spreads or intensifies, the yellow colour deepens, baby runs a high fever, cries and feeds poorly or appears lethargic or listless, contact your medical practitioner immediately.  

What are the treatments for jaundice? 

In general, jaundice usually resolves on its own and no treatment is required. Phytotherapy is sometimes used in more severe cases. Baby is placed under a blue spectrum light while only wearing a diaper. His eyes will usually be covered by protective goggles. A fibre-optic blanket is sometimes placed under the baby. The light treatment helps the body break down the bilirubin so baby can pass it out of his system. In extreme cases, baby may need to receive a transfusion. This replaces the damaged red blood cells with healthy ones to improve the red cell count. Ensure that baby is getting enough nutrition and is being fed adequately. This will also help pass the bilirubin out faster.   

Newborn jaundice is not normally a cause for concern and should pass as long as baby is receiving adequate nutrition from breastmilk or formula in the first week or so after birth. If you have any concerns or the jaundice appears to be getting worse or has added symptoms, consult with your doctor or paediatrician to make sure there is no underlying cause of the jaundice in your baby.