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Newborn Jaundice (Neonatal Jaundice)

Newborn jaundice (Neonatal jaundice), also known as “icterus”, is a yellowish or greenish pigmentation of the skin and whites of the eyes due to high bilirubin levels.

During pregnancy, the mother’s liver removes bilirubin for the baby, but after birth the baby’s liver must remove the bilirubin. In some babies, the liver might not be developed enough to efficiently get rid of bilirubin.

If the levels are very high for too long a type of brain damage, known as kernicterus or bilirubin encephalopathy, may occur as the bilirubin can cross the thin layer of tissue that separates the brain and blood (the blood-brain barrier).

The bilirubin can damage the brain and spinal cord, which can be life threatening. Kernicterus is now extremely rare in the UK, affecting less than 1 in every 100,000 babies.

Newborn Jaundice Symptoms

Jaundice usually appears first on the face and then moves to the chest, belly, arms, and legs as bilirubin levels get higher. The whites of the eyes can also look yellow.

Jaundice can be harder to see in babies with darker skin colour - checking the gums and inner lips may detect jaundice in this case.

About 60% of all babies have jaundice. Some babies are more likely to have severe jaundice and higher bilirubin levels than others.

Babies born before 37 weeks, or 8.5 months, of pregnancy might have jaundice because their liver is not fully developed.

A baby born to an East Asian or Mediterranean family is at a higher risk of becoming jaundiced due to the higher risk of inheriting conditions such as G6PDdeficiency.

Newbon Jaundice Treatment and Research

Among neonates, depending on age and prematurity, a bilirubin greater than 4-21 mg/dL (68-360 μmol/L) may be treated, the usual course of treatment being phototherapy (conventional or fibreoptic) or a blood (exchange) transfusion if phototherapy is ineffective.

There has been some research into other treatments including a focus on administration of albumin to decrease bilirubin toxicity in the brain (Vodret et al. 2015).


Vodret et al. 2015 -