Skip Ribbon Commands
Skip to main content
Skip Navigation LinksBoys Town Pediatrics > Knowledge Center > Health Articles > Newborns and Jaundice

Newborns and Jaundice

By Alexis Sawyer, M.D.

​Jaundice is a common condition that occurs in more than half of all full-term newborns and even more in pre-mature infants.  Jaundice is recognized when a baby’s skin and whites of their eyes appear yellow.  Babies develop this condition when they are unable to get rid of old red blood cells while replacing them with new ones.  When the red blood cells break down, a substance called bilirubin is produced.  Jaundice results when too much bilirubin accumulates in the body.  This is what causes the yellow shading of the skin. In most cases, jaundice is harmless and easily treated.

Signs of Jaundice

To identify jaundice, it is best to examine your baby under natural light. If you press on your baby’s skin under natural light and notice an underlying yellow tone (before the area turns pink again), jaundice may be present.

Contact your physician immediately if your baby develops the following warning signs of severe jaundice:

  • Dehydration (no urine passed in more than 8 hours, dry mouth, poor feeding)
  • Yellowing of the skin and eyes within first 24 hours of life
  • Yellow shading becomes a deep yellow or orange color
  • Fever over 100.4°F

Treating Jaundice

Your doctor may instruct you to treat jaundice by:

  • Feeding your baby at least every two to three hours to help increase bowel movements, as this is the primary way to clear bilirubin
  • Using phototherapy (blue light that breaks down bilirubin in the skin). In many cases, this can be done in the comfort of your home, by way of a “bili-blanket” or a set of lights shining down on the baby.

Consult with your physician during office hours if your baby:

  • Has less than three good-sized bowel movements per day
  • Has less than six wet diapers per day
  • Does not get rid of the jaundice by day 14

If you suspect your baby has jaundice, consult with your physician. A simple blood test will measure your baby’s bilirubin levels to determine whether or not jaundice is present. As always, call your physician if you have any other questions or concerns.