How Can I Tell If My Baby Has Jaundice?

Feb 14, 2024

How Can I Tell If My Baby Has Jaundice?

Most new parents expect a learning curve when it comes to getting the hang of newborn care, including daily aspects like feeding their babies and getting them to sleep. What parents don’t always realize, however, is the importance of keeping an eye out for unexpected — yet common — concerns like jaundice.

 With 10 offices located throughout Jacksonville, Florida, and surrounding counties, our skilled pediatric specialists at Angel Kids Pediatrics provide personalized, comprehensive newborn care services, including prompt jaundice detection, evaluation, and treatment. Here’s what you should know about this common concern. 

Understanding newborn jaundice

Newborn jaundice is very common, affecting up to 60 percent of full-term babies — and up to 80 percent of preterm infants — in their first week of life.

 It typically occurs due to an excess of bilirubin, a yellow substance that appears with the normal breakdown of red blood cells. The atypical buildup in your baby's blood usually happens because newborns create more bilirubin than normal in the first few days of life, and their livers often aren’t developed enough to remove it efficiently.

Warning signs of newborn jaundice

The main symptom of newborn jaundice is yellowing of the skin. It tends to be most noticeable on the head and face, as well as in the mouth, on the palms of the hands, and on the soles of the feet. The whites of the eyes can turn yellow as well.

 A newborn with jaundice may also be sleepy, eat less or not at all, and have dark yellow urine and pale-colored bowel movements. In full-term babies, the problem typically begins about two days after birth; it can take up to a week to appear in preterm babies.

Risk factors for newborn jaundice

Some babies may be more at risk of developing jaundice than others. These include those born before 38 weeks of gestation, as well as newborns who suffered significant bruising during delivery. Babies of East Asian ancestry, and those whose blood type differs from their mother's blood type, are also more likely to become jaundiced. 

While breastfeeding comes with many health benefits and is recommended by experts, it can also raise the risk of jaundice in certain circumstances. Not getting enough breast milk during feedings in the first week of life can lead to jaundice; this is known as breastfeeding jaundice, or suboptimal intake jaundice.

A second type of jaundice — breast milk jaundice —  typically occurs in the second or subsequent weeks after birth. The specific cause is unknown, but experts believe it’s due to substances in the mother’s milk that prevent the newborn’s liver from ridding the body of bilirubin.

The importance of expert evaluation

You can watch out for jaundice by examining your baby in good light conditions, such as natural daylight. You can press gently on your baby's forehead or nose, and if the skin looks yellow after you release your finger, it's likely they have mild jaundice. In babies without jaundice, the skin color will briefly look lighter.

 In the hospital, newborn care providers examine babies for jaundice over their first 72 hours of life. Your newborn should also be checked by their pediatrician between three and seven days after birth when bilirubin levels are typically the highest.

If your newborn shows any signs of jaundice, including yellow skin, no weight gain, lethargy, or high-pitched crying, it’s important to contact our team immediately. 

Treatment options for newborn jaundice

Multiple treatment options are available for moderate to severe jaundice, including enhanced nutrition, light therapy, and intravenous immunoglobulin (IVIg). Another option is to reduce your baby’s bilirubin level with an exchange transfusion, where blood is removed and replaced with donor blood.

 Given that mild cases of jaundice often resolve on their own, however, treatment isn’t always required. Still, expert evaluation is important in all jaundice cases — seeing our pediatric team anytime you’re concerned ensures your baby receives the care they need when it needs it. 

Whether you're expecting or already have a newborn or older child, Angel Kids Pediatrics can help you navigate all your healthcare needs. Call or click online to schedule an appointment at your nearest office in Jacksonville, Amelia Island, or Saint Johns, Florida, today.