Jaundice, also known as icterus, is common in newborns. It causes the whites of the eyes and the skin to turn yellow. This colouration is due to the accumulation of an orange pigment called bilirubin in the blood.
In full-term babies, jaundice generally starts 2 to 3 days after birth and is gone by the end of the first week. In premature babies, it can last a few weeks.
Bilirubin is partially eliminated in the baby’s stools. This means jaundice is worse in babies who don’t drink enough and whose intestines are not very active.
It is possible for a breastfed baby to develop a type of jaundice that lasts up to 2 months. If your baby is growing well, gaining weight, and pees and poops normally (see Stools), this form of jaundice is not serious and requires no treatment. Breastfeeding can continue normally.
The best way to prevent jaundice is to make sure your newborn drinks enough milk (see Is your baby drinking enough milk?).
What to do?
It isn’t easy to tell how yellow a newborn is. Check her skin and the whites of her eyes.
Make sure she drinks enough.
If you’re worried about the colour of your baby, or if she is drowsy, irritable, or isn’t feeding well, consult a doctor, a CLSC nurse, or the hospital or birthing centre where you gave birth.
In most cases, no treatment is necessary for jaundice.