Understanding Jaundice and Its Treatment

After delivery, newborns may develop jaundice. Jaundice is caused by a buildup of bilirubin within a baby’s blood that results in a yellowish tone of the skin and eyes. Bilirubin is in everyone’s blood, however, when the baby is still in utero, the mother’s liver does the work of removing it for the baby. After delivery, the baby’s liver must take on this job. It may take some time for this to occur efficiently, which is why buildup can occur. If your baby does develop jaundice, know that the condition is fairly common and can occur in babies of any race or color.

Signs and Symptoms

The most obvious indicator of jaundice is the yellow appearance of the baby’s skin. It usually appears first on the face and whites of the eyes. As the bilirubin level increases, it may spread to the chest, abdomen, arms and legs.

After delivery, your pediatrician or a nurse will monitor your newborn closely. If they feel as though the child may be jaundiced, they will use a skin or blood test to check bilirubin levels. This test ensures that your child receives necessary care.


Jaundice most often appears if an infant isn’t feeding well, and is more common in breastfed babies. When breastfeeding, it is recommended that you feed your baby 8-12 times a day or for longer periods of time to help produce adequate milk and help to keep your child’s bilirubin level down. While feeding is extremely important, you may find your jaundiced baby is overly sleepy and not as willing to eat. You may have to arouse him more often to keep the child awake as you feed. If you’re having trouble breastfeeding, ask your pediatrician, nurse or a lactation consultant for help.


While most cases of jaundice are mild and go away on their own, sometimes it is necessary to treat with phototherapy using “bili lights.” Depending on the severity of jaundice, this may be done at the hospital or within your own home. By placing the baby undressed beneath the lights, the bilirubin levels will lower. It is not recommended to use natural sunlight as a treatment option. Because your newborn must be undressed, the baby may get cold and risks getting sunburned. The risks associated with natural sunlight outweigh the benefits.

Jaundice typically subsides within three weeks. If it does not, please contact your pediatrician.