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Baby with Jaundice

Finding Answers about Neonatal Jaundice

If your baby's skin tone appears to be yellow or orange in color, you may be wondering if it is normal or something you should be worried about. Neonatal jaundice, also known as hyperbilirubinemia, is a yellow coloring of the skin and whites of the eyes caused by elevated bilirubin in the blood. Bilirubin is a yellow pigment produced by the normal breakdown of blood. This buildup is caused by the baby's liver not being fully mature enough to excrete bilirubin. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), if severe jaundice is not resolved, elevated bilirubin can lead to permanent neurological damage.

Here are some signs and symptoms to be aware of if your baby develops jaundice:

  • Yellow or orange skin tone (appears first at head and upper body then spreads downward to toes).
  • Whites of the eyes appear yellow.
  • Having trouble sleeping or hard to wake up.
  • Not wetting diapers frequently.
  • Uncontrollably fussy.
  • Difficulty breastfeeding or drinking from a bottle.

If your baby has, or had, jaundice you are not alone. Jaundice affects about 60% of babies. Additionally, when babies are experiencing feeding difficulties, risks are higher because they may not be receiving adequate milk intake. If your baby shows the above symptoms, contact his pediatrician immediately.

For most cases, typical treatment for neonatal jaundice may involve phototherapy. In phototherapy, bilirubin absorbs light from fluorescent lights and changes it to a compound that exits the body in urine. Note: using direct sunlight is not recommended, or safe, because baby could become sunburned. In severe or untreated conditions, a blood transfusion may be needed.

Oftentimes, jaundice will be mild and go away without treatment. According to the March of Dimes, it may last 2 to 3 weeks. If lasting more than 3 weeks, follow up with baby's health care provider. And rest easy, once jaundice goes away baby will return to his normal self without long-term health implications.