Jaundice in the Newborn Baby

  • Reference Number: HEY-006/2013
  • Departments: Maternity Services, Paediatrics

This leaflet has been produced to give you general information. Most of your questions should be answered by this leaflet. It is not intended to replace the discussion between you and the healthcare team, but may act as a starting point for discussion. If after reading it you have any concerns or require further explanation, please discuss this with a member of the healthcare team.


This leaflet has been produced to give you general information about jaundice in the newborn baby.  Most of your questions should be answered by this leaflet.  It is not intended to replace the discussion between you and your doctor or midwife, but may act as a starting point for discussion.   If after reading it you have any concerns or require further explanation, please discuss this with a member of the healthcare team caring for you.

What is jaundice?

Jaundice is a name given to the yellow appearance of the skin and the whites of the eyes. Jaundice is not a liver disease. Jaundice is very common in newborn babies and about nine out of ten of newborn babies will become jaundiced two or three days after birth. Jaundice reaches its peak at about four days of life and then gradually disappears in most babies by the time they are two weeks old. Jaundice does not necessarily mean your baby is ill. It can occur within twenty-four hours after birth, but this is rare. If this happens it is important that you tell your midwife or doctor.

Why did my baby develop jaundice?

When your baby is in the womb the waste products are removed through the placenta. Once your baby is born their own body has to do this. It can take some time for a baby to be able to remove their waste products properly. One of the waste products is called bilirubin. Bilirubin is made when the old red blood cells are broken down. Too much bilirubin will cause jaundice.

Can the level of jaundice be measured?

If necessary a heel prick blood sample can be taken. This will show whether your baby has jaundice or if the level is getting higher.

Can there be any complications or risks?

Baby jaundice is not usually dangerous. If there is any doubt, a blood sample will be taken to measure the bilirubin to make certain there is no risk to your baby. Phototherapy is always started well before any dangerous level is reached. This is a light that is placed over or under the baby and breaks down the bilirubin level in the baby that causes the jaundice. Phototherapy can usually be stopped within a few days.

How do you treat jaundice?

Please read the information leaflet. Share the information it contains with your partner and family (if you wish) so that they can be of help and support. There may be information they need to know, especially if they are taking care of you following this examination.

How you can help?

Most babies will need no treatment at all and the jaundice will disappear by the time the baby is two weeks old. However a small number of babies do need some treatment. Your midwife or doctor will know from experience when this is necessary, the usual treatment is phototherapy to reduce the bilirubin level. Your
baby will be placed naked, except for some eye pads, in a cot under a special blue light. Alternatively your baby may be wrapped in a “bili-blanket”. The light breaks down the bilirubin. You will be encouraged to feed your baby so that your baby produces plenty of urine.

You should check the colour of your baby’s stools in the dirty nappies (the poo) and the urine. The urine of the newly born baby should be colourless. If your baby’s urine is persistently yellow you should tell your midwife, doctor or health visitor, whether or not your baby has jaundice.

The stools of a breast fed baby should be green/daffodil yellow but the stools of a bottle fed baby should be green / English mustard yellow. Stools can be alternately paler and darker.

What happens if the jaundice does not go?

A blood test called “split bilirubin” should be carried out. This test will be done in the hospital. This measures the bilirubin levels in your baby’s blood in more detail.

Some babies who are breastfed may have jaundice, which continues. Breast milk jaundice is harmless and will gradually disappear. A small number of babies will have liver disease jaundice – or even both. However it is important that a diagnosis of breast milk jaundice is made after a split bilirubin blood test.

Useful Contacts

Should you require further advice on the issues contained in this leaflet, please do not hesitate to contact the following:
Department Community Midwifery Office (01482) 382658 (01482) 382742
Rowan Ward (01482) 605381
Maple Ward (01482) 607779
Labour and Delivery Suite (01482 604490

Children’s Liver Disease Foundation

36 Great Charles Street
B3 3JY
Tel: (0121) 2123839
Email: info@childliverdisease.org and www.childliverdisease.org

General Advice and Consent

Most of your questions should have been answered by this leaflet, but remember that this is only a starting point for discussion with the healthcare team.

Consent to treatment

Before any doctor, nurse or therapist examines or treats your child, they must seek your consent or permission. In order to make a decision, you need to have information from health professionals about the treatment or investigation which is being offered to your child. You should always ask them more questions if you do not understand or if you want more information.

The information you receive should be about your child’s condition, the alternatives available for your child, and whether it carries risks as well as the benefits. What is important is that your consent is genuine or valid. That means:

  • you must be able to give your consent
  • you must be given enough information to enable you to make a decision
  • you must be acting under your own free will and not under the strong influence of another person

Information about your child

We collect and use your child’s information to provide your child with care and treatment. As part of your child’s care, information about your child will be shared between members of a healthcare team, some of whom you may not meet. Your child’s information may also be used to help train staff, to check the quality of our care, to manage and plan the health service, and to help with research. Wherever possible we use anonymous data.

We may pass on relevant information to other health organisations that provide your child with care. All information is treated as strictly confidential and is not given to anyone who does not need it. If you have any concerns please ask your child’s doctor, or the person caring for your child.

Under the General Data Protection Regulation and the Data Protection Act 2018 we are responsible for maintaining the confidentiality of any information we hold about your child. For further information visit the following page: Confidential Information about You.

If you or your carer needs information about your health and wellbeing and about your care and treatment in a different format, such as large print, braille or audio, due to disability, impairment or sensory loss, please advise a member of staff and this can be arranged.

Your newborn baby’s NHS number

An NHS number is allocated to everyone whose birth is registered with a Registrar of Births and Deaths in England and Wales. You already have an NHS number and your baby will be assigned an NHS number soon after birth. Your NHS number is unique to you and provides a reliable means of linking you to the medical and administrative information we hold about you. NHS numbers are allocated on a random basis and, in themeselves, provide no information about the people to whom they relate.