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What are the Symptoms of Jaundice in Newborns?

By M.R. Anglin
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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One of the most recognized symptoms of jaundice in newborns is the yellowing of the skin and sclera, the whites of the eyes, as well as the yellowing of the mucous membranes. In addition, lethargy, the development of an abnormal positioning of the head and back, high-pitched crying, lack of eating, and the development of strange muscle tone are also symptoms of jaundice. Jaundice in newborns can be effectively treated, but action should be taken as soon as possible to prevent serious and dangerous side effects. Without treatment, the condition can lead to brain damage. Doctors often use phototherapy as a treatment, but other methods, such as exchange transfusions, may also be needed.

Jaundice in newborns is a fairly common condition, affecting around 50% of newborn babies. The condition is caused when the excess red blood cells that are present in a baby's blood stream during delivery die rapidly, forming bilirubin. Normally, the baby's liver and his normal eating and digestion will eliminate the substance from the blood stream. In many cases, however, the liver of many babies may not be able to handle the load. Instead bilirubin builds up and can cause the skin, eyes, and mucous membranes look yellow and may cause the baby's urine to look dark yellow.

One of the more severe symptoms of jaundice in newborns is lethargy. A normal baby should be easy to wake and should wake completely. If a newborn baby cannot wake easily or is not able to stay awake, it could be a symptom of jaundice. If the baby is experiencing an abnormal arching of the head and back, a high pitched cry, or strange muscle tone, parents should seek treatment for their baby. These symptoms could be signs of brain damage due to the build up of bilirubin, and immediate medical attention should be sought.

Phototherapy can transform bilirubin into a water-soluble substance that can be easily removed from the body. This is a reason some babies are placed underneath lamps when they have newborn jaundice. Other treatments may include exchange transfusions, a procedure in which blood is removed from a patient and new blood is transfused. In either case, if a parent notices any sign of jaundice in his newborn, he should rush the child for emergency medical care. Brain damage caused by jaundice in newborns can be avoided or reduced if the child is treated as soon as possible.

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Discussion Comments
By SarahGen — On Jul 30, 2013

@burcinc-- Jaundice in newborn babies can take several weeks to resolve completely. But the first five days are very important. My son had his bilirubin levels tested every day for the first five days.

By SteamLouis — On Jul 30, 2013

@burcinc-- I think you need to make another visit to the hospital right away. Jaundice is nothing to mess with and I think it's better to be safe than sorry.

Did your daughter get a bilirubin prick test after birth? If she is not showing any improvement, she should get another prick test to check her blood bilirubin levels. She might be in need of phototherapy.

Her jaundice might not have been serious at the hospital. But this doesn't mean that it can't get worse. It's a good idea to make sure she's doing okay. And it is true that feeding on time and making sure that the newborn is getting enough liquids is important for getting the excess bilirubin out of the system. So keep doing that.

By burcinc — On Jul 29, 2013

My daughter has newborn jaundice and the doctors said that it's not bad and that she will recover soon. I was told to feed her regularly and check her diaper to make sure she is not dehydrated.

It has been three days since we got home and she still has jaundice. She is feeding regularly, is not dehydrated and doesn't seem to be sleeping excessively. But her skin still has a yellow tone to it.

I want to take her to the hospital but I'm afraid they will just send us home again. What should I do? How long does jaundice in babies usually last? Am I worrying too much?

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