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

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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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