Jaundice Is Not Unusual

Since your newborn arrived, life has been a blur of feedings, diaper changes, and lack of sleep. But now, a few days after coming home, something seems different about your beautiful baby. Her skin looks sort of yellowish. And so do the whites of her eyes. Is it your imagination, or is there cause for concern?

You’re probably not imagining things. Many babies show signs of jaundice about two to five days after birth. Why? It takes a few days for a newborn’s liver to catch up with the bilirubin produced by red blood cells. So, the extra bilirubin shows up as a yellowing of the skin and the whites of the eyes. This usually lasts about two weeks—or up to six weeks or so in breastfed babies—and then clears up on its own.

When Jaundice Becomes a Concern

Unfortunately, jaundice doesn’t always go away by itself. And high levels of bilirubin can lead to brain damage, hearing loss, and other problems.

Since many babies go home within a few days after birth—before jaundice may be noticeable—it’s left to parents to check for signs. Press your fingertip gently against your baby’s forehead or nose under natural or fluorescent light. Normal skin will blanch white when pressed. But, if skin looks yellowish, call your baby’s doctor. This skin test may not work as well for babies with darker skin.

Treating Newborn Jaundice

More frequent feedings of either breast milk or formula—but not water—can help your baby pass bilirubin through stools. If you are breastfeeding exclusively, do not stop or switch to formula unless the doctor recommends it. Phototherapy, in which the baby rests under special lights, also can help break down bilirubin. Other treatments may be needed in some cases.

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