Newborn Jaundice

Caused by the build-up of bilirubin in the blood

HEY, can you explain jaundice?

“Newborn jaundice is when your baby’s skin and the white parts of his eyes look yellow. It’s caused by the build-up of a substance in the blood called bilirubin. Newborn jaundice is very common—about 3 in 5 babies(60 percent) have jaundice.

Jaundice usually happens a few days afterbirth. Most of the time, it’s mild, doesn’t hurt your baby and goes away without treatment. But if a baby has severe jaundice and doesn’t get quick treatment, it can lead to brain damage.”- March of Dimes

About 50% of term and 80% of preterm babies develop jaundice.1

See More From March of Dimes

What is bilirubin?

“Bilirubin is a brownish yellow substance found in bile. It is produced when the liver breaks down old red blood cells. Bilirubin is then removed from the body through the stool (feces) and gives stool its normal color.”- University of Michigan

Newborn Jaundice Video Overview

It is not uncommon for newborn babies to be jaundiced when they are first born. However, it can leave many questions for new parents. What is jaundice?  Is it normal? How do I tell if my child is improving? Here are answers to some of the questions you may have if your newborn has jaundice. -
St. Louis Children's Hospital


Unconjugated bilirubin is potentially toxic to brain tissue

  • Entry of unconjugated bilirubin into the brain can cause short‑term and long‑term neurological encephalopathy
  • When unconjugated bilirubin crosses the blood-brain barrier and deposits in the brain, brain tissue becomes yellow
  • Kernicterus refers to the clinical features of acute or chronic bilirubin encephalopathy, as well as to the yellow staining in the brain
  • Kernicterus is known to occur at lower bilirubin levels in term babies who have risk factors, and in preterm babies

Potential Kernicterus Lifelong Consequences

How Is Jaundice Diagnosed?


Physical Exam

Laboratory Test

Transcutaneous Bilirubinometer

1Woodgate P, Jardine LA. Neonatal jaundice: phototherapy. BMJ Clin Evid. 2015;2015:0319. Published 2015 May 22.