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Jaundice in Newborns (Hyperbilirubinemia) - Topic Overview

What are the symptoms?

If a newborn has jaundice, his or her skin and the white part of the eyes will look yellow. The yellow color shows up first in the baby's face and chest, usually 1 to 5 days after birth.

A baby whose bilirubin level is high may:

  • Get more yellow.
  • Be sluggish and not suck well.
  • Be cranky or jittery.
  • Arch his or her back.
  • Have a high-pitched cry.

A high bilirubin level can be dangerous. Make sure to call a doctor right away if your baby has any of these symptoms.

How is jaundice in newborns diagnosed?

Your baby's doctor will do a physical exam and ask you questions about your health and your baby's health. For example, the doctor might ask if you and your baby have different blood types.

The doctor may place a device against your baby's skin to check your baby's bilirubin level. A blood test for bilirubin may be done to find out if your baby needs treatment.

More tests may be needed if the doctor thinks that a health problem is causing too much bilirubin in the blood.

How is it treated?

Your baby will need treatment if the bilirubin level is above the normal range for newborns. He or she will be put under a type of fluorescent light to treat the jaundice. This is called phototherapy camera.gif. The skin absorbs the light, which changes the bilirubin so that the body can more easily get rid of it. The treatment is usually done in a hospital. But babies sometimes are treated at home.

Don't try to treat jaundice by placing your baby in the sun or near a window. Special lights and controlled surroundings are always needed to treat jaundice safely.

If a health problem caused the jaundice, your baby may need other treatment. For example, a baby with severe jaundice caused by Rh incompatibility may need a blood transfusion.

How can you help your baby?

If your baby has jaundice, you have an important role to play.

  • Look closely at your baby's skin 2 times a day to make sure that the color is returning to normal. If your baby has dark skin, look at the white part of the eyes.
  • Take your baby for any follow-up testing your doctor recommends.
  • Call the doctor if the yellow color gets brighter after your baby is 3 days old.
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