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Understanding Infant Jaundice

Infant Baby SleepingJaundice is a common condition in newborns, caused by excess yellow pigment in the blood called bilirubin, which is produced by the normal breakdown of red blood cells. When bilirubin is produced faster than a newborn’s liver can break it down, the baby’s skin and eyes will appear yellow in color.

In most cases, jaundice disappears without treatment and does not harm the baby. However, if the infant’s bilirubin levels get too high, jaundice can pose a risk of brain damage. It is for this reason that the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that all infants should be examined for jaundice within a few days of birth.

Is it Jaundice?

When parents leave the hospital with their newborn, they will want to look for signs of jaundice in the days following, as the condition usually appears around the second or third day of life. Most parents will be able to detect jaundice simply by looking at the baby’s skin under natural daylight. If you notice your newborn’s skin or eyes looking yellow, you should contact your pediatrician to see if jaundice is present.

Also, call your pediatrician immediately if your jaundiced newborn’s condition intensifies or spreads. The following symptoms may be warning signs of dangerously high levels of bilirubin that require prompt treatment.

  • Skin appears very yellow
  • Infant becomes hard to wake or fussy
  • Poor feeding
  • Abnormal behavior
  • Feverish

Treating Jaundice

While most infants with jaundice do not require treatment, in more moderate to severe cases treatment will be recommended. Some infants can be treated by phototherapy, a special light treatment that exposes the baby’s skin to get rid of the excess bilirubin. Infants who do not respond to phototherapy or who continue to have rising bilirubin levels may be treated with a blood transfusion.

Always talk to your pediatrician if you have questions about newborn jaundice. 

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