Jaundice in newborns is common. It causes yellowing of the skin of the face and upper body, and sometimes the whites of the eyes. Jaundice usually appears when the baby is 2-3 days old, although it can also occur later.
Newborns have a high number of red blood cells which are broken down and replaced frequently. This process produces a yellow substance called bilirubin, which is usually broken down by the liver. In many newborns, the liver isn’t quite mature enough to process the bilirubin so it builds up, causing jaundice. This usually improves and resolves by the time they’re around two weeks old, although it can take longer, especially if your baby was premature.
Jaundice usually resolves on its own, but some babies will need to have treatment in hospital.
If you think your baby is jaundiced, it’s important to speak to your midwife. Look out for skin or eyes that look yellow, or pale / white stools. Jaundice can make babies sleepy and reluctant to feed, which can lead to dehydration, so it’s very important that you feed your baby every three hours at least if you think your baby has jaundice.
You should call your general practitioner (GP) or midwife if:
- The jaundice seems to be getting worse
- You are struggling to rouse your baby
- They are refusing to feed
- They have fewer wet and dirty nappies than you think they should
- The whites of their eyes look yellow
- They have pale or white poo