Neonatal Jaundice

Neonatal jaundice is a common condition that affects newborn babies. It occurs when the baby's skin and eyes turn yellow due to a buildup of bilirubin in the blood. Left untreated, it can cause serious health complications and even death. Early diagnosis and treatment are key; however, parents can take proactive steps to reduce their baby's risk of developing jaundice. With prompt action and lifestyle changes, neonatal jaundice need not be a cause for concern.

What is neonatal jaundice?

Neonatal jaundice is a common condition in newborn babies. It is caused by the high levels of red blood cell breakdown products, known as bilirubin, in the baby's bloodstream. Bilirubin makes the skin and whites of the eyes appear yellow. It can also cause anaemia and brain damage if left untreated. Treatment involves phototherapy, where special lights break down the bilirubin in the baby's blood. In some cases, an exchange transfusion may be necessary to remove excess bilirubin from the baby’s body. If diagnosed early, neonatal jaundice can usually be successfully treated without complications.

What are the different types of neonatal jaundice?

There are three main types of neonatal jaundice: physiological, pathological, and breast-milk jaundice. Physiological jaundice is very common in newborns; it is caused by the slow maturity of the baby's liver and usually resolves itself without treatment. Pathological jaundice can be caused by infections, haemolytic disorders, or genetic diseases and requires medical attention. Breast milk jaundice occurs when a baby has an allergic reaction to the proteins in their mother's milk and is treated with changes to the feeding schedule.

What are the causes of neonatal jaundice?

Neonatal jaundice is caused by the breakdown of red blood cells in the baby's body, which leads to an accumulation of a yellow pigment called bilirubin. Bilirubin is normally processed by the liver, but newborns have livers that are not fully developed and therefore cannot process it quickly enough. This causes the bilirubin to build up in their bloodstream, resulting in jaundice. In most cases, the condition resolves itself within two weeks without treatment; however, if levels of bilirubin become dangerously high, medical intervention may be needed to reduce them.

What are the symptoms of neonatal jaundice?

Neonatal jaundice is characterised by a yellowing of the skin and eyes, as well as dark-coloured urine. It can also cause lethargy and irritability in newborn babies. Other symptoms may include poor feeding, vomiting, and a lack of energy. In severe cases, an enlarged liver or spleen may be observed. Jaundice at birth can also indicate an underlying health problem, such as an infection or genetic condition. If any of these symptoms are present in a newborn baby, medical advice should be sought immediately.

When should you see a doctor for neonatal jaundice?

When a newborn has signs of jaundice, it is important to seek medical advice from a doctor immediately. This can include yellowing of the skin, yellowing of the whites of the eyes, and dark-coloured urine. Additionally, if a baby’s blood tests show high levels of bilirubin, they may need treatment to reduce this level to avoid any potential long-term health problems. A doctor will be able to advise on the best course of action for the infant and ensure that their condition does not worsen.


Neonatal jaundice is a common condition in newborn babies that can be easily treated with phototherapy and other treatments. In some cases, more serious interventions may be needed to prevent long-term health issues. With proper treatment and management, neonatal jaundice can typically be resolved without any lasting effects. This condition is best managed when detected early, so it is important for parents to closely monitor their child’s health and contact their physician with any concerns. Neonatal jaundice is a treatable condition, and early detection and intervention are the keys to the successful management of the symptoms.

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1. How can healthcare providers diagnose neonatal jaundice?

Healthcare providers diagnose neonatal jaundice by measuring the level of bilirubin in a baby's blood or skin.

2. What are the long-term effects of untreated neonatal jaundice?

Untreated neonatal jaundice can lead to neurological problems, including hearing loss, intellectual disabilities, and cerebral palsy.

3. Are there any lifestyle changes that can help reduce the risk of developing neonatal jaundice?

Mothers should make sure to get enough rest during pregnancy and breastfeeding, as well as eat a balanced diet with adequate amounts of protein and iron. Additionally, babies should be exclusively breastfed for at least 6 months if possible.

4. What factors may increase a baby's risk of developing jaundice?

Premature infants, breastfed babies, those with low birth weight, and babies born to mothers with blood type incompatibility are more likely to develop jaundice.

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