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Newborn Jaundice: Care Instructions


Many newborn babies have a yellow tint to their skin and the whites of their eyes. This is called jaundice. While you are pregnant, your liver gets rid of a substance called bilirubin for your baby. After your baby is born, your baby's liver must take over this job. But many newborns can't get rid of bilirubin as fast as they make it. It can build up and cause jaundice.

In healthy babies, some jaundice almost always appears by 2 to 4 days of age. It usually gets better or goes away on its own within a week or two without causing problems. If you are nursing, it may be normal for your baby to have very mild jaundice throughout breastfeeding.

In rare cases, jaundice gets worse and can cause brain damage. That is why it is important to call your doctor or nurse advice line if you notice signs that jaundice is getting worse. Your doctor can treat your baby to get rid of the extra bilirubin. You may be able to treat your baby at home with a special type of light called phototherapy.

Babies with jaundice may need follow-up tests to check their bilirubin. Be sure you know the date, time, and place of any follow-up testing appointments.

Follow-up care is a key part of your child's treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse advice line (811 in most provinces and territories) if your child is having problems. It's also a good idea to know your child's test results and keep a list of the medicines your child takes.

How can you care for your child at home?

  • Watch your newborn for signs that jaundice is getting worse.
    • Undress your baby and look at their skin closely. Do this 2 times a day. For dark-skinned babies, gently press on your baby's skin on the forehead, nose, or chest. Then when you lift your finger, check to see if the skin looks yellow.
    • If you think that your baby's skin or the whites of the eyes are getting more yellow, call your doctor.
  • Breastfeed your baby often. Extra fluids will help your baby's liver get rid of the extra bilirubin. If you feed your baby from a bottle, stay on your schedule.
  • If you are using phototherapy to treat your baby at home, it is important that you understand how to use all the equipment. Ask your health professional for help if you have questions.

When should you call for help?

Call your doctor or nurse advice line now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • Your baby's yellow tint gets brighter or deeper.
  • Your baby is arching their back and has a shrill, high-pitched cry.
  • Your baby seems very sleepy, is not eating or nursing well, or does not act normally.
  • Your baby has no wet diapers for 6 hours.

Watch closely for changes in your child's health, and be sure to contact your doctor or nurse advice line if:

  • Your baby does not get better as expected.

Where can you learn more?

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Care instructions adapted under license by your healthcare professional. If you have questions about a medical condition or this instruction, always ask your healthcare professional. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information.