Jaundice Simplified

What is Newborn Jaundice?

Jaundice is a yellow discoloration of the skin, and the white part (the sclera) of the eyes. It results from having too much of bilirubin in the blood.

Bilirubin, however, is formed when the body breaks down old red blood cells. The liver usually processes and removes the bilirubin from the blood.

Jaundice in babies occurs because their immature livers are not efficient at removing bilirubin from the bloodstream. In other words, it occurs when the bilirubin is produced faster than it can be eliminated.

There also may be cases where an underlying disease is causing the Jaundice.

Signs of infant jaundice usually become apparent about day 2-5 of life.


When a newborn is diagnosed with mild jaundice, the treatment could range from: exposing the baby to sunlight, encouraging more frequent feedings and/or using a phototherapy light.

Your baby’s Pediatirician will determine which treatment methodology is best suited for your situation.

Phototherapy treatment (using a biliblanket) is the most common treatment for mild to severe cases of jaundice.  

Why is treating Jaundice so important?

Jaundice usually shows up within 2 to 5 days of life. In some cases, the baby is already home or about to be discharged from the hospital.

Jaundice in infants can be mild (where special treatment may not be needed), or may become hazardous, whereby the bilirubin may cross into the brain and cause either Acute Bilirubin Encephalopathy or Kernicterus (more severe). High levels of bilirubin in a baby can cause deafness, celebral palsy or other forms of brain damage in some babies.

It is good practice to schedule an appointment with your infant’s pediatrician 1 to 2 days after leaving the hospital to check for Jaundice.

Types of Jaundice

The following are some of the types of newborn Jaundice:

Physiologic Jaundice

Caused by a mild concentration of bilirubin.

Prematurity Jaundice

Occurs mostly in premature babies because their livers are less ready to excrete bilirubin effectively.

Breastfeeding Jaundice

Breastfeeding failures can cause this jaundice. The infants lose excessive weight thereby increasing bilirubin concentration.

Breast milk Jaundice

Caused by substances produced in the mothers breast milk that cause the baby’s bilirubin levels to spike up. These substances can prevent the excretion of bilirubin through the intestines.

Blood group Incompatibility (RH or ABO problems)

Occurs when a baby has a different blood type than the mother, the mother might produce antibodies that destroy the infants red blood cells. Once this happens, the infant suddenly has a build up of bilirubin in the blood.

Jaundice can result to very severe medical complications, therefore must be monitored, managed and treated immediately and appropriately.