Jaundice is a common and usually harmless condition in newborns. The word jaundice was derived from a French word that means yellow. It describes the yellowish appearance of the whites of the eyes and skin of many newborn babies. The most common kind of jaundice is physiologic jaundice. It usually appears on the second or third day of life in healthy babies born after a full term pregnancy. It often disappears within a week without any treatment. It may occur in both breastfed and formula fed babies, however it is more common in breastfed babies. We will always test the jaundice level by measuring the bilirubin in your baby’s blood with a blood test prior to leaving the hospital.

In most babies, jaundice occurs because the liver is not yet fully mature and able to rid the body of bilirubin, the breakdown product of old red blood cells that causes the yellow coloring. In rare cases, jaundice can become severe, or may be due to another disease process. This is called pathologic jaundice. We become concerned when the jaundice becomes more apparent and the bilirubin levels are too high, since this can cause damage to a baby’s brain. This is called kernicterus. Although this is uncommon, we still need to be vigilant. Please call me if you think that your baby has jaundice that is more than you had expected. Typically, feeding babies often helps them to maintain a good state of hydration and stimulates bowel movement which is the body’s way of eliminating the bilirubin. However, do not give your baby extra water.

If you notice a yellowing of your baby’s eyes and skin, be sure to check with my office. But remember, jaundice in newborn babies is common, usually normal, and only a temporary condition.