Newborn jaundice is a yellowing of a baby’s skin and eyes. Newborn jaundice is very common and can occur when babies have a high level of bilirubin, a yellow pigment produced during normal breakdown of red blood cells. In older babies and adults, the liver processes bilirubin, which then passes it through the intestinal tract. However, a newborn’s still-developing liver may not be mature enough to remove bilirubin.
The good news is that in most cases, newborn jaundice goes away on its own as a baby’s liver develops and as the baby begins to feed, which helps bilirubin pass through the body.
In most cases, jaundice will disappear within 2 to 3 weeks. Jaundice that persists longer than three weeks may be a symptom of an underlying condition. Additionally, high levels of bilirubin can put a baby at risk for deafness, cerebral palsy, or other forms of brain damage. That’s why the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that all newborn babies be examined for jaundice every time their vital signs are measured (or at least every 8 to 12 hours), before discharge from the hospital, and again a few days after discharge.