Jaundice In Babies: Newborn Jaundice

When newborns develop jaundice, it is a widespread phenomenon that I usually resolve by myself.

Jaundice in babies: neonatal jaundice

Jaundice in adults is significantly more dangerous than in newborns. In babies, the condition usually regulates itself, but not in adults. Therefore, you should not confuse these two forms of jaundice !

Jaundice in newborns

Jaundice occurs in over half of all newborns in babies. About 60% develop jaundice in the first few days of their lives. This turns the skin in particular, but also other tissues, yellow.

Usually no further treatment is necessary.  Only in rare and particularly pronounced cases of jaundice does the newborn need to be treated in order to prevent possible consequential damage to the brain. This is particularly the case with premature babies.

Jaundice in babies


Jaundice is caused by an incompletely functioning liver or bile, which is normally used to excrete the yellow pigment bilirubin. Bilirubin is produced when the red blood pigment hemoglobin is broken down and is responsible for the yellowing of the skin.

In the first few days of a newborn, more bilirubin is formed than the baby’s immature liver can handle.

What is initially perceived as “sick”, however, is possibly a protective mechanism of nature. Because bilirubin can intercept free radicals and thus protects the newborn from diseases that arise or are favored by oxidative stress.


So if your baby develops jaundice in the first few days after birth, this is not tragic, but completely natural.

The highest concentration of bilirubin is usually found in the blood on the fifth day of life, after which the yellow coloration should slowly improve. Nevertheless, you should watch your baby and, if necessary, have his or her blood checked regularly.

If the bilirubin concentration in the blood exceeds a certain value, the bilirubin crosses the blood-brain barrier and can lead to permanent damage in the brain. This is particularly common in premature babies, as their blood-brain barrier is not yet working properly due to their immaturity.

Risk factors

The risk of jaundice in healthy children is around 60%. But there are also risk groups of babies in whom newborn jaundice occurs particularly frequently:

  • Premature babies
  • Babies with an immature blood-brain barrier
  • Lack of oxygen during childbirth
  • Hematoma from the birth process
  • Acidification of the blood
  • Hypoglycemia
  • Albumin deficiency
  • Infections
  • shock
  • Liver disease

If your child is born with mild jaundice, they will need to be examined.  Because there could be other diseases or possible immaturity or malformations.

Baby with female doctor


There is no need to draw blood from your baby frequently to diagnose jaundice. In the course of its first examinations, blood is drawn automatically in order to carry out other important examinations. But the bilirubin concentration can also be determined differently:

There are devices that can easily determine the development of bilirubin through the skin by means of a photometric measurement. This is particularly popular when, as with premature babies, there is a higher risk of developing jaundice.

If the concentration of bilirubin rises too high, the following therapies can be used:

sick baby


In phototherapy, a diode or lamp that emits strong blue light is hung over the baby’s bed or incubator . Luminous mats are also possible, which are placed under the incubator.

The blue light breaks down bilirubin into components that can be transported out of the baby’s small body via the urine without the liver being involved.

With phototherapy, however, it is essential to protect the child’s eyes from the intense light. Otherwise damage to the retina could result. It can also lead to conjunctivitis. The light also leads to increased fluid and salt loss through the skin.

Phototherapy sounds harmless at first. However, due to possible side effects, it should only be used if the bilirubin concentration in the blood is alarmingly high.  It’s about preventing damage to the brain.


This therapy is an exchange of blood.  The blood is withdrawn and replaced by a blood reserve until the entire blood volume has been exchanged.

This is especially used when bilirubin rises to dangerous levels faster than phototherapy can help break it down. This is also the appropriate method if there is an existing Rh incompatibility between mother and child.

No matter which method is used: the prognosis is good and, if the therapy is carried out correctly, there will be no consequential damage. The problem is not the therapy, but the excessive concentration of bilirubin.

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