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Causes of Jaundice in Newborn Babies

Newborn Care By Pratima Sharma , Onlymyhealth editorial team / Oct 19, 2011
Causes of Jaundice in Newborn Babies

Newborn Care- Excessive production of a chemical in the body called bilirubin is the main cause of jaundice in newborn babies.

Jaundice is a common condition in newborn babies characterized by yellowing of the skin. Newborn babies usually suffer from jaundice when there is excessive production of a chemical in the body called bilirubin. One of the major causes of jaundice in newborn babies is underdeveloped liver, that is unable to remove the excess bilirubin produced. The condition, though not harmful for the baby, can become a life-threatening situation if not diagnosed on time.

Jaundice usually appears first on the baby’s face followed by rest of the body in about 2-3 days. It clears off in about 7 days in full-term newborn babies and 9-10 days in preterm babies. The condition may develop in both breastfed and bottle fed babies, however, the reasons may be different and the treatment is given accordingly. When severe symptoms are noticed, the doctor may recommend blood tests to check the level of bilirubin and establish the causes of jaundice. In case the level is too high, your baby will require hospitalization and intensive medical treatment.

“Mothers should be advised to nurse their newborns at least 8-12 times per day for the first few days to avoid jaundice.” suggests Dr. Pankaj Vohra, Paeditrician, Max Healthcare, New Delhi. Though most types of jaundice in newborn babies are harmless and do not require treatment, timely medical attention from a healthcare provider can help diagnose the problem and find the causes of jaundice at the earliest. Some common causes of jaundice in newborn babies include:


Physiological Jaundice



This is a common condition and may appear within 2-3 days of birth. The condition peaks between 2-4 days and gets treated in about 2 weeks’ time. This is a harmless condition and causes no problems in the development of the baby.


Breastfeeding Problems


As per the NYU Langone Medical Center, about 13% cases of jaundice in babies occur due to breastfeeding problems such as low milk supply or inadequate feeding time. Some new mothers are unable to gauge the time required for the baby to be fully fed, resulting in the baby being underfed.


Breast Milk Jaundice


In about 2% cases, some substances in the breast milk may hinder the removal of excess bilirubin from the baby’s body. In such cases doctors recommend against breastfeeding for a few days, till the bilirubin reaches the normal level.


Abnormal Liver Function


Liver regulates the production and removal of bilirubin in the body. In some newborn babies the liver may not have yet fully matured or developed an infection, resulting in jaundice. The condition can be resolved through proper medication.




This is a harmful condition and is caused due to abnormal breakdown of red blood cells in baby’s body. Blood group incompatibility or Rh diseases are two possible reasons for this type of jaundice. 


Common type of jaundice does not require any type of treatment and generally gets resolved in 1-2 weeks. However, you must get your baby checked for bilirubin levels if he shows any symptoms of jaundice. Consult your doctor if your baby looks weak, is feeding poorly, appears uncomfortable, cries frequently and has high fever. Timely medical attention will ensure that your baby is treated at the earliest and does not develop any complications.


Read more articles on Newborn Care




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