Things to Know About Untreated Jaundice in Newborns

Babies are most vulnerable just after birth. Being a new parent, you may be worried about the common health problems your baby may encounter, one if which is jaundice. 

In newborns and babies, jaundice is very prevalent. Jaundice happens when the infant’s blood produces an excess of bilirubin, which causes the skin to become yellowish.

Here’s everything you need to know right here in this blog! 

Things to Know About Untreated Jaundice in Newborns
Image Source: Mama Natural

What is Bilirubin?

Bilirubin, a yellow substance, is produced by the body when old red blood cells are replaced. The liver helps break down the material so that the stool can expel it from the body. A high bilirubin level makes the skin and the whites of the eyes of a child appear yellow.

What Causes Jaundice?

Each day, your baby’s body recycles some red blood cells. And when red blood cells break down, bilirubin develops. During pregnancy, your liver extracts your baby’s bilirubin. 

Your baby’s liver may not be adequately developed after birth to remove bilirubin on its own properly. Your baby’s liver can take a few days to be able to do this.

Types of Jaundice

Yellowing of the skin and some around the whites of the eyes, or jaundice, is present in most newborns, which is biochemical. When the baby is about 2 to 4 days old, it is usually apparent. It does not cause concerns much of the time and goes away within two weeks.

In newborns who are breastfed, two forms of jaundice can occur. Typically, both conditions are harmless.

Breastfeeding Jaundice

This type of jaundice is observed during the first week of life in breastfed infants. When babies do not feed well, or the mother’s milk is slow to arrive, it is more likely to occur, leading to dehydration.

Breast Milk Jaundice

Breast milk jaundice can occur in some stable, 7-day old breastfed babies. During weeks 2 and 3, it is likely to peak but can last for a month or more at low levels. 

The problem may be due to how the degradation of bilirubin in the liver affects substances in breast milk. Breast milk jaundice is distinct from jaundice for breastfeeding.

Extreme Neonatal Jaundice

If the baby developed a condition that increases the number of red blood cells that need to be replaced in the body, extreme neonatal jaundice could occur such as,

  • Abnormal forms of blood cells (such as anemia)
  • Blood type mismatch (Rh incompatibility or ABO incompatibility) between mother and baby
  • Under the scalp (cephalohematoma), bleeding caused by a complicated delivery.
  • Higher red blood cell levels, which are more typical in babies of small gestational age (SGA) and some twins
  • Infections
  • Lack of specific essential proteins, known as enzymes. 

    Things that make bilirubin excretion more difficult for the baby’s body can also lead to more severe jaundice, including,

  • Other medications
  • Infections such as rubella, syphilis, and others present at birth are
  • Diseases such as cystic fibrosis or hepatitis that affect the liver or biliary tract
  • High amount of oxygen (hypoxia)
  • Sepsis (Infections)
  • Many common hereditary or genetic disorders

Pre-mature babies, who are born too early, are more likely to develop jaundice than full-term babies.

Early Signs of Jaundice

A yellowish color typically first occurs on the face when a baby has jaundice. It can then spread to the chest, neck, arms, legs, and areas of his white eyes. 

Call the health care provider of your child right away if,

  • Your baby’s skin appears really pale, orange, or greenish-yellow in color.
  • Your baby is harder to wake up than usual or can’t be put to sleep at all.
  • You have trouble with breastfeeding or bottle-feeding your baby.
  • Your baby is more fussy than normal.

How Are Babies Checked For Jaundice?

When in the hospital, the American Academy of Pediatrics ( AAP) suggests that all babies be tested for jaundice after birth. With one or more of these tests, your baby’s provider checks her:

Blood Test

This is the simplest way of calculating levels of bilirubin. To do this exam, your baby’s provider takes a small sample of blood from her heel.

Physical Check-up

Your baby’s doctor inspects the body of your infant for signs of jaundice.

Skin Test

Your baby’s doctor puts a device on the forehead of your baby to check her bilirubin level. The unit tests the reflection of a special light into her skin that shines.

At 3 to 5 days of age, the AAP suggests that babies be tested for jaundice again. This is the moment when the highest levels of bilirubin are detected. 

If your baby leaves the hospital before the age of 72 hours (3 days), the next 2 days should be reviewed.


Adequate feeding is the strongest preventative of infant jaundice. For the first few days of life, breast-fed babies can have eight to 12 feedings a day. 

Infants fed with formula can typically have 1 to 2 ounces (approximately 30 to 60 milliliters) of formula for the first week, every two to three hours. This will help you make enough baby milk and help keep the bilirubin level of the baby down.


Things to Know About Untreated Jaundice in Newborns
Image Source: HealthXchange


You can call and see your baby’s doctor right away if you think your baby has jaundice. Ask a doctor or nurse for a jaundice bilirubin test for your infant.