Jaundice is very common in newborn babies – about 60 per cent develop it. It's caused by the build up of a yellow blood pigment called bilirubin under the skin.
What are the signs?
- Yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes
- Possibly sleepiness and lack of interest in feeding
Why it happens
- When babies are born they have surplus red blood cells in their body.
- Sometimes the baby's immature liver struggles to break down these blood cells quickly enough.
- This leads to a build up of bilirubin, a yellow pigment found in red blood cells, giving the skin a yellowish tinge.
- Jaundice is more common in breastfed babies – it's not known why this is.
- Newborn jaundice usually appears a few days after birth and is gone by two weeks.
Is it serious?
- Jaundice is usually mild and harmless.
- However, it's important that the bilirubin doesn't build up too much in your baby's body because, in rare cases, this can lead to brain damage.
- That's why midwives and doctors are careful to monitor jaundice in new babies and will organise treatment if your baby needs it.
How is it treated?
- If your baby has jaundice, doctors may carry out tests and suggest they are observed in hospital for a few days.
- Jaundice is treated using phototherapy – your baby will usually be placed in a cot under a blue light that breaks down the bilirubin. Their eyes will be covered to protect them from the light.
- Particularly at-risk babies may need a blood transfusion too.
What can you do?
- If you are breastfeeding, offer your baby plenty of feeds. This will encourage them to poo more often and excrete the bilirubin from their body.
- Sunlight helps to breakdown bilirubin, so your midwife or doctor may encourage you to place your baby in indirect sunlight for a few minutes each day.
- Tell your doctor or midwife if:
- your baby develops jaundice after one week
- jaundice persists for longer than two weeks
- your baby has very pale poo.