Ask The Expert
September 02, 2011
Jaundice is yellowing of the skin. Itís very common, and found in many newborns of all races. Two to three of every four newborns will get it.
Jaundice is caused by a buildup of bilirubin in the body. Bilirubin is a brownish-yellowish substance thatís found in bile. Jaundice happens when a new babyís liver takes a few days to get up to speed in removing bilirubin the right way.
Most cases of jaundice in newborns go away quickly, without any harm. But some cases of jaundice can be serious. This is because bilirubin levels can get too high and hurt the babyís brain.
It is critical that parents, doctors, and nurses pay close attention to how yellow a babyís skin is during his or her first few days of life. As a precaution, all babies should be checked when they are 3 to 5 days old. A blood test may be needed to make sure that the bilirubin level is not too high.
Call the doctor if:
Jaundice usually lasts through the first two weeks of a babyís life. Sometimes it can be a bit longer in babies who are breastfed. If the bilirubin level gets too high, doctors order phototherapy. The baby is placed under special lights that break down the excess bilirubin deposited in the skin. Traditionally, this was always done in the hospital. Today, phototherapy can frequently be done at home.