Baby's First Year · Breastfeeding · Parenting

What is jaundice in newborns?

Newborn baby breastfeeding wearing a yellow hat

Jaundice is a common newborn condition where your baby’s skin turns yellow because there is too much bilirubin in your baby’s blood. Bilirubin is a yellow pigment that is released when the liver breaks down red blood cells.  Your baby’s immature liver may not be able to quickly get rid of the large number of red blood cells that break down immediately after birth.  This results in the bilirubin settling into your baby’s skin. The yellowing of your baby’s skin is called jaundice.

Jaundice usually starts in the head, then spreads to your baby’s body and finally to their arms and legs. The whites of your baby’s eyes may also turn yellow. Most cases of jaundice are normal and go away within a few days or weeks with no special treatment.

How do I prevent jaundice?

  • Having your baby breastfeed well and often in the first week will help. Breastfeed your baby at least 8 times in 24 hours (day and night).
  • Feeding your baby often will help your baby to have adequate wet diapers and stools. Your baby gets rid of the bilirubin through their urine and stool.

When levels of bilirubin increase your baby may become very sleepy and hard to wake up to feed. If your baby is not waking up for feeds and/or not breastfeeding well, visit your doctor or one of our Breastfeeding Clinics for support. High levels of bilirubin can be dangerous and your baby might need to have phototherapy. Your baby will be put under special lights and this will help to break down the bilirubin so it can be eliminated through your baby’s urine and stool. Your baby will wear special eye protection to protect their eyes.

If you think your baby has jaundice go see your health care provider.

Remember breastfeeding is a learned skill for mothers and babies. It requires patience and practice. Get help right away if your baby is not showing signs of breastfeeding well.

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