Jaundice in Newborns

Boston NAPS blog about Jaundice

If the term jaundice is new to you, it may sound scary and have you a bit worried about your little one. You may be thinking, "Have I done something wrong?" "Can this be avoided?" "What are the potential risks?"

First, there's no need to panic. Jaundice is relatively common in infants and is easily treated if caught early. If you're a new parent, be sure to read this short post on jaundice, so you can be aware and prepared. 

What are the risks?

Most cases of jaundice are mild, caught early, and easily treated. However if left untreated, or if the bilirubin level (the chemical that causes jaundice) increases quickly, the biggest risk is that it can cause brain damage at very high levels. 

What are the signs?

The first sign of jaundice is yellowing of this skin (this is the definition of jaundice), caused by the build up of bilirubin within the baby's blood. The yellowing appears first on a baby's face, and then moves to the trunk, arms, and legs if/when the bilirubin level increases. You may also notice yellowing in the whites of the eyes. 

Should you be concerned?

In most cases, no, jaundice is not something to be concerned about. The reason being, it is recommended by American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that all infants born in the hospital be screened for jaundice and its risk factors and then have a bilirubin level drawn prior to being discharged home if indicated. It is also recommended by the AAP for newborns to have a follow up with a healthcare provider 3-5 days after birth and be screened again for jaundice and its risk factors as this is when the bilirubin levels peak in newborns. This screening process allows for early detection of jaundice and thus early treatment. Treatment is recommended and performed for bilirubin levels that are much lower than those that would cause brain damage. Reasons to be concerned would be if the yellowing of the skin gets worse (i.e the skin turns more yellow or the trunk and limbs begin to yellow) or if your baby is already jaundice and then becomes very lethargic and difficult to wake for feedings.