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!

What are the symptoms of jaundice in newborns?

Neonatal jaundice may be associated with various symptoms, depending upon the degree of elevation in bilirubin levels as well as the exact cause of the jaundice. The yellow discoloration of the skin will begin on the face and forehead and extend toward the feet as the levels of bilirubin increase. This characteristic progression of jaundice in infants can sometimes allow your health care professional to estimate the bilirubin level based on the location and extent of the jaundice, though this assessment can often be inaccurate.

The signs and symptoms associated with neonatal jaundice may include the following:

  • Yellow discoloration of the skin, mucous membranes and the whites of the eyes
  • Light-colored stool
  • Poor feeding
  • Lethargy/excessive sleepiness
  • Changes in muscle tone (either listless or stiff with arching of the back)
  • High-pitched crying
  • Seizures

Kernicterus, which is caused by prolonged excessively elevated levels of bilirubin affecting the central nervous system, must be recognized and promptly treated as it can lead to permanent brain damage. Kernicterus is an irreversible and chronic condition which can include cerebral palsy, hearing loss, and intellectual impairment. Kernicterus has likely started to develop if the infant begins to exhibit extreme lethargy, changes in muscle tone, and a high-pitched cry.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 6/30/2015

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