What is jaundice?

It’s common among newborns, but what is it and what should you do about it?

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What is it?

Jaundice is an illness that commonly occurs in the first few days of a baby’s life, turning the skin, eyes and mouth a yellow colour.

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What causes it?

Bilirubin, which your body makes when it breaks down old red blood cells. It’s normally processed by the liver, but because baby’s red blood cells have a shorter life, more bilirubin goes through your baby’s liver, which may not be mature enough to handle this.


How long will it last?

Normally jaundice appears in the first 3 to 5 days after your baby is born and then slowly disappears as his liver matures. Breastfed babies may have mild jaundice for slightly longer than bottle-fed babies.

How will I spot it?

It should be fairly obvious, especially if your baby has pale skin. However, if you’re not sure, check the whites of his eyes and the skin inside his mouth. If they look yellowish, contact your GP, who will take some blood tests to see how severe the jaundice is.

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How is it treated?

If the bilirubin level isn’t too high, your baby won’t need treatment. In some cases he may need phototherapy, which uses special white, blue or green lights to break down the bilirubin in the skin. This can give your baby loose stools, a raised temperature or dehydration, but your GP will monitor him carefully. In very severe cases he might need an exchange transfusion, when new blood is transfused and old blood is removed.

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