Neonatal jaundice

During the first few days of life, the skin and whites of the eyes of almost 60% of healthy newborns take on a yellowish hue.

Overview

During the first few days of life, the skin and whites of the eyes of almost 60% of healthy newborns take on a yellowish hue. Brown urine and pale stools can also occur. Neonatal jaundice (icterus) is a mostly harmless adjustment disorder affecting the liver. More rarely, it can also be an indicator of a serious disease (metabolic disorder, liver problem, etc.).

Symptoms

  • Primarily during the first week of life
  • Yellowish discolouration of skin and whites of the eyes
  • Brown urine
  • Pale stools

Complications if bilirubin levels in the blood continue to increase

  • Yellowish discolouration doesn't improve after 14 days
  • Yellowish discolouration seems to increase (whole body)
  • In rare cases

Causes and treatment

Causes

  • Normal adjustment process
    • Background: high number of red blood cells with a short lifespan
    • Must be broken down in the liver after birth
    • Haemoglobin is converted into bilirubin
    • Liver is not yet able to break down these large volumes of bilirubin sufficiently
    • Yellowing due to deposit of bilirubin in the skin
  • Blood type incompatibility between mother and child
  • Premature baby
  • Narrowing/malformation of the bile duct
  • Metabolic disorders
  • Infections/inflammations (e.g. of liver)
  • Medication, malnutrition
  • Underactive thyroid

Further treatment by your doctor / in hospital

Possible tests:
  • Pregnancy check-ups
  • Standard: neonatal screening (search for metabolic disorders)
  • Blood test (bilirubin concentration, liver function, etc.)
  • Light signals to measure yellowness
Possible therapies
  • Phototherapy (blue light) to treat the skin
  • Exchange transfusion (blood transfusion; seldom)
  • Treatment of the underlying disease

What can I do myself?

  • Ensure sufficient daylight (no direct sun exposure)
  • Breastfeed often (if experiencing problems: obtain breastfeeding advice/contact midwife
  • Watch child carefully

When to see a doctor?

  • Skin colour changes > 14 days or yellow discolouration affects the whole body
  • Sucking problems and greenish vomit
  • Newborns with fever
  • Dark brown urine
  • Growing drowsiness and weakness
  • Breathing problems, child can “turn blue”
  • Feeling that something isn't right

Further information

Swiss Society of Paediatrics (Schweizerische Gesellschaft für Pädiatrie)
www.swiss-paediatrics.org

Schweizerischer Hebammenverband (Swiss Federation of Midwives)
www.hebamme.ch

Synonyms

neonatal jaundice, neonatal icterus, infant jaundice, newborn jaundice

Exclusion of liability

CSS offers no guarantee for the accuracy and completeness of the information. The information published is no substitute for professional advice from a doctor or pharmacist.

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