Jaundice in Newborns (Neonatal Jaundice)

  • Medical Author:
    Steven Doerr, MD

    Steven Doerr, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Emergency Medicine Physician. Dr. Doerr received his undergraduate degree in Spanish from the University of Colorado at Boulder. He graduated with his Medical Degree from the University Of Colorado Health Sciences Center in Denver, Colorado in 1998 and completed his residency training in Emergency Medicine from Denver Health Medical Center in Denver, Colorado in 2002, where he also served as Chief Resident.

  • Medical Editor: John Mersch, MD, FAAP
    John Mersch, MD, FAAP

    John Mersch, MD, FAAP

    Dr. Mersch received his Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of California, San Diego, and prior to entering the University Of Southern California School Of Medicine, was a graduate student (attaining PhD candidate status) in Experimental Pathology at USC. He attended internship and residency at Children's Hospital Los Angeles.

Quiz: Your Baby's First Year!

Physiologic jaundice

This form of jaundice is usually evident on the second or third day of life. It is the most common cause of newborn jaundice and it is usually a transient and harmless condition. Physiologic jaundice is caused by the inability of the newborn's immature liver to metabolize (conjugate) and thus excrete bilirubin, which accumulates due to the breakdown of red blood cells which have a shorter life-span (70 to 90 days) than adult red blood cells (120 days). This increase in red blood cell breakdown and decreased ability to metabolize bilirubin overwhelms the newborns ability to properly process and excrete bilirubin. As the newborn's liver matures, however, the jaundice eventually disappears after 1 to 2 weeks.

Maternal-fetal blood group incompatibility (Rh, ABO)

This form of jaundice occurs when there is incompatibility between the blood types of the mother and the fetus. This leads to increased bilirubin levels from the breakdown of the fetus' red blood cells (hemolysis).

Breast milk jaundice

This form of jaundice occurs in breastfed newborns and often appears at the end of the first week of life. Certain chemicals in breast milk are thought to be responsible. It is usually a harmless condition that resolves spontaneously. Mothers typically do not have to discontinue breastfeeding.

Breastfeeding jaundice

This form of jaundice occurs when the breastfed newborn does NOT receive adequate breast milk intake. This may occur because of delayed or insufficient milk production by the mother or because of poor feeding by the newborn. This inadequate intake results in dehydration and fewer bowel movements for the newborn, which results in decreased bilirubin excretion from the body.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 6/30/2015
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