What is it? What are the symptoms? What are the treatments?

What is jaundice?

Neonatal or newborn jaundice is a common condition affecting up to 60% of babies. It's caused by the build-up of a substance called bilirubin in the blood. Bilirubin is a side product of red blood cells being broken down for recycling, and is yellow in colour, which is why your baby may be born with yellow-tinged skin and eyes.

It's thought to occur because newborns have proportionately more red blood cells than adults and because their liver is slower to process the bilirubin that's produced when cells are broken down.

When jaundice occurs in babies less than a week old, it's called physiological jaundice, but when it continues for more than a fortnight it's called prolonged jaundice. Neither type generally causes problems long term, although in very rare cases prolonged jaundice could be a sign of serious liver disease.

What are the symptoms of Jaundice?

A yellowish tinge to the skin and the whites of the eyes are often the only symptoms, but some jaundiced babies are very drowsy, making feeding difficult. It's important to get feeding established to prevent dehydration, which makes jaundice worse.

You should seek urgent medical advice if your baby is still jaundiced after two weeks; if the condition doesn't appear until after the first week of life or if your baby is passing chalky white stools and dark urine. These symptoms could indicate an underlying liver problem.

What are the treatments and remedies of Jaundice?

Jaundice is a condition rather than an illness and usually clears up on its own. In some circumstances, hospital treatment with phototherapy, where your baby is placed under a strong UVB lamp, is given to help clear bilirubin from the blood. Sometimes an exchange blood transfusion, where some of your baby's blood is replaced with donor blood that doesn't contain bilirubin, is necessary.

This guide 

The information in this Bounty A-Z of Family Health is not a substitute for an examination, diagnosis or treatment by a doctor, midwife, health visitor or any other qualified health professional. If in doubt, always speak to a doctor.

Bounty will not be held responsible or liable for any injury, loss, damage, or illness, however this occurs or appears, after using the information given on this website and in particular the A-Z of Family Health.

Further help

For health advice and information 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, the NHS offers call and web services. You can also visit NHS websites for services, health information and health news at nhs.uk 

  • England – call 111 from any landline or mobile phone free of charge, or visit nhs.uk 
  • Scotland – call 111 from any landline or mobile phone free of charge, or visit nhs24.com 
  • Wales – call 0845 4647 , or visit nhsdirect.wales.nhs.uk 
  • Northern Ireland – visit hscni.net