Jaundice in Newborns (Hyperbilirubinemia) - Symptoms
The most common symptom of
jaundice in newborns is a yellowish tinge to the skin,
the white part of the eyes, or the inside of the mouth. This yellow tint
usually appears first in the infant's face and chest between 1 and 5 days after
birth, although the exact timing may vary by child and by the
type of jaundice.
- Physiologic jaundice develops in all babies
(although it may be very slight and not noticeable) sometime after the first
day of life. It occurs because babies' organs are not yet able to get rid of
bilirubin effectively. If noticeable, the yellowing of
the skin and eyes usually appears about 24 hours after birth and increases
until about the third or fourth day. Most often, the blood bilirubin level then
gradually lowers, and the yellowing fades or disappears in about a week without
- Breast-feeding jaundice is caused by mild
dehydration, which prolongs and intensifies
physiologic jaundice. Dehydration contributes to jaundice because it makes
removing bilirubin from the body even harder for babies' immature systems.
Breast-feeding jaundice can occur when a baby does not get enough fluids, most
often because feedings are spaced too far apart. Typically, if feedings become
more frequent, this type of jaundice decreases or resolves sometime between 5
and 7 days after birth.
- Breast milk jaundice is a rise in bilirubin
levels that occurs about 10 to 14 days after birth. It is likely related to how
certain components of breast milk affect bilirubin elimination in the infant.
Breast milk jaundice usually begins to fade by the second month, although a
slight yellow tint may be visible throughout the duration of breast-feeding.
In rare cases, jaundice in a newborn may be caused by
an underlying condition. Symptoms that begin to appear less than 24 hours
after birth are unlikely to be jaundice and need to be evaluated carefully for
other possible causes.1
In general, call
your health professional if the yellowing appears to increase after your baby's
third day of life or has not decreased by the fifth day. Remember, however,
that if you are breast-feeding, increasing the frequency of feedings may help
to lower your baby's bilirubin levels and decrease jaundice.
damage (kernicterus) can develop if a baby with a high
bilirubin blood level is not treated. See your health professional right away
if your baby develops signs of a high bilirubin level, which include:
- Sluggishness and poor sucking
- Irritability, jitteriness, and crying.
of the baby's back.
- A shrill, high-pitched cry.
Signs of a very high level of
bilirubin may include:
- Periods of not breathing (apnea) or difficulty