Women's Healthcare Topics

Newborn Jaundice

Reviewed by James Brann, M.D.

Ultraviolet Light Therapy is the Common Jaundice Treatment

Jaundice is a condition when the white part of your baby’s eye or their skin turns a yellowish color. Jaundice is a common condition for newborns and may happen within just a few days of delivering your child. A baby is normally checked for jaundice just a few days after birth.

Jaundice occurs when a young baby has high levels of bilirubin in their blood. If your baby has jaundice your doctor will perform a blood test to check the bilirubin level. Babies may have high levels of bilirubin for a number of reasons. Some breastfed babies may develop jaundice because they’re not getting enough breast milk.

It’s important for a baby to be checked out to see if they need any treatment. Extremely high levels of bilirubin can cause brain damage.

Symptoms of Jaundice

To find out if your child has jaundice, press one of your fingers against your child’s forehead or nose, and then lift up. If the skin remains yellow where you just pressed down, your baby has jaundice.

Jaundice usually starts on the face first with yellowish skin and yellowish whites of the eyes. It may then spread to the arms, belly and chest. It spreads to a baby’s legs last.

In some situations, jaundice becomes severe. In this case, a baby’s skin is more orange-than yellow. With severe jaundice, a baby may have the following problems:

Ultraviolet Light therapy is the treatment of choice for jaundice of the newborn.
  • Continued crying and unhappiness

  • Difficulty waking up

  • A high-pitched cry

  • Continually bending their neck or body backwards

When to Call the Doctor

Call your doctor immediately if your child’s jaundice is worsening. You’ll also want to call if your baby is experiencing signs of severe jaundice.

To check for jaundice, your doctor can do a blood test and an exam.

Helping Jaundice Improve

To help your child’s jaundice improve, you can ensure your baby is drinking enough. If you breastfeed, make sure you’re doing it frequently enough and the correct way. If you use baby formula, make sure your baby’s drinking enough, too. If you’re worried about this, make sure you talk to your doctor.

How to determine if your baby’s drinking enough:

  • Bowel movements turn from dark green to yellow

  • Baby appears happy after a feeding

  • Baby has at least 6 wet diapers each day

Some babies won’t need additional jaundice treatments. This is due to the fact that their bilirubin levels are only slightly high and not rising. In these babies the jaundice should improve on its own. Other times, babies will need treatment, though. A baby who needs treatment usually has rising bilirubin levels.

Treating Jaundice

Light therapy is the most common jaundice treatment. As part of it, your baby goes under a special blue light, or a light blanket is wrapped around them. Babies with light therapy are normally undressed, or only in a diaper so that the light has the best possibility of shining on their skin.


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