Newborn jaundice is a condition marked by high levels of bilirubin in the blood. The increased bilirubin causes the infant's skin and whites of the eyes (sclera) to look yellow.
Bilirubin is a yellow pigment that is created in the body during the normal recycling of old red blood cells. The liver helps break down bilirubin so that it can be removed from the body in the stool.
Before birth, the placenta -- the organ that nourishes the developing baby -- removes the bilirubin from the infant so that it can be processed by the mother's liver. Immediately after birth, the baby's own liver begins to take over the job, but this can take time. Therefore, bilirubin levels in an infant are normally a little higher …show more content…
Usually newborn jaundice is not harmful. For most babies, jaundice usually gets better without treatment within 1 to 2 weeks.
Very high levels of bilirubin can damage the brain. This is called kernicterus. However, the condition is almost always diagnosed before levels become high enough to cause this damage.
For babies who need treatment, the treatment is usually effective.
Rare, but serious, complications from high bilirubin levels include:
Kernicterus -- brain damage from very high bilirubin levels
When to Contact a Medical Professional
All babies should be seen by a health care provider in the first 5 days of life to check for jaundice.
Those who spend less than 24 hours in a hospital should be seen by age 72 hours.
Infants sent home between 24 and 48 hours should be seen again by age 96 hours.
Infants sent home between 48 and 72 hours should be seen again by age 120 hours.
Jaundice is an emergency if the baby has a fever, has become listless, or is not feeding well. Jaundice may be dangerous in high-risk newborns.
Jaundice is generally NOT dangerous in term, otherwise healthy newborns. Call the infant's health care provider if:
Jaundice is severe (the skin is bright