Signs and Symptoms of Jaundice in Newborns

By  ,  Onlymyhealth editorial team
Oct 19, 2011

Jaundice in newborns is a common condition that affects the liver and is marked by high levels of bilirubin in the blood cells. In most cases, the condition is perceived normal during the first few days of the newborn’s life. This is baby’s liver takes time to develop and hence there is excessive serum bilirubin in the body. 

It is believed that out of every ten newborns, six experience jaundice. Nonetheless, if the condition does not resolve in a few days then it becomes a cause of concern because high levels of bilirubin in the blood cells of a child might  cause deafness, cerebral palsy, neurotic complications, brain damage and even death since bilirubin tends to deposit in the brain when blood levels are very high.

A study conducted by the University of Maryland Medical Centre (UMMC) describes jaundice as an unpreventable condition that is common among newborns. The study also states that there are many types of jaundice among newborns including physiological jaundice, breastfeeding jaundice, breast milk jaundice and prematurity jaundice.


  • Physiological jaundice is normally affects newborns.
  • Breastfeeding jaundice occurs when the child does not get sufficient milk from the mother while breast milk jaundice occurs if the milk contains substances that may trigger the reuse of bilirubin in the intestines of the newborn.
  • Prematurity jaundice occurs in premature babies who have immature livers and underdeveloped body organs.


Signs and Symptoms of Jaundice in Newborns


  • Yellow Discolouration: Yellow discolouration of the skin and eyes (sometimes) are amongst the first signs symptoms of jaundice in newborns. Discoloration of the skin begins with the face and spreads to other body parts including chest, abdomen, legs and soles t. Inactivity: Inactivity and weakness is also  a sign of jaundice in newborns. This tiredness is caused by the inability of the body to breakdown the excessive serum bilirubin, thus making the newborn weak. The underdevelopment of the liver leads to a slower processing of the bilirubin in the child’s body, further leading to weakness.
  • Loss of Appetite: This is common among newborns who indicate signs of breastfeeding jaundice. The baby tends to be disinterested in breastfeeding. This is common between the first and third week after birth.
  • Other common symptoms of jaundice include fever, headache, nausea, severe constipation and abdominal pains.


Determining jaundice through tests including blood tests, Coomb’s test, Reticulocyte count and Measurement of levels of specific types of bilirubin in newborns early is crucial to  ward off its potential dangers. Thorough medical examination and tests for jaundice should be conducted before newborns leave for their home as bilirubin levels are usually highest between the first five days. Although jaundice in newborn babies is a normal condition, but in case severe jaundice is left untreated, it may lead to permanent brain damage and even death Effective tests include blood tests, Coomb’s.


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