How to Care for Jaundice in a Newborn

Physiologic jaundice, the most common type of jaundice, can affect up to 60% of newborns the first week of life. Physiologic jaundice is usually gone by 1-2 weeks following birth. Jaundice is common in newborns and can be a normal condition.

Jaundice appears as a yellowing of the skin and also the whites of the eyes. This “yellowing” is caused from an excess of bilirubin in babies blood. Bilirubin is carried by the blood, to the liver, where it is prepared prior to removal by the intestines.

Sometimes jaundice can be a sign of a more serious, but treatable condition. Premature birth, dehydration and an immature liver are just a few conditions that jaundice can cause.

Infants receive care and treatment in the hospital to prevent and treat jaundice. There are also things that can be done at home to care for the jaundiced infant:


In the hospital, there are lights (phototherapy) that are used to treat jaundice. At home, direct sunlight can be used the same way. Babies clothes should be taken off, with exception of the diaper. The diaper and an eye patch should be put on the infant when placing him/her in direct sunlight.


When an infant is not getting enough breast milk, he/she may become dehydrated. Dehydration will cause an increase in bilirubin in your infants blood, this in turn, causes jaundice. Infants with jaundice should be fed every 2-3 hours, to ward off dehydration. Giving the infant a supplement of formula will usually clear up jaundice.

Phototherapy pads:

Phototherapy pads, are blanket type pads that emits light radiation onto the infant. The pad is put directly against the skin of the infant. Phototherapy pads can be used in the hospital and at home to bring the infants bilirubin levels down.

There is a chance that the increase in bilirubin that is causing your infant’s jaundice could be serious and or is not responding to the above therapies. If your infant is not responding to the above therapies, there are other therapies that can be done in the hospital. They are:


Immunoglobin, given through an I.V,. can decrease the number of antibodies and decrease jaundice.

Intravenous (I.V.) Therapy:

The infant needs to be hydrated to bring the bilirubin level down. I.V. therapy is given in the hospital to hydrate baby. Hydrating the infant may decrease the amount of bilirubin in the blood, which will decrease jaundice.


A transfusion called the exchange transfusion, is done by taken a small amount of the infants blood and replacing it with donor blood. The transfusion is performed over a period of 2-4 hours. The infants blood, with a high amount of bilirubin, is replaced by normal blood. This procedure decreases the amount of bilirubin. This procedure is done in the hospital.

Jaundice can also be so serious as to cause brain damage. Symptoms of brain damage caused by high bilirubin are poor feeding, lethargy, limpness, high-pitched crying, fever and sever arching of the back and neck.

If you notice jaundice in your infant, call your doctor right away. Do not use the above treatment measures without first talking to your doctor about them. Your doctor will chart out a treatment plan for your infant with the goals to decrease the bilirubin, alleviate jaundice and prevent any further complications.