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Newborn Jaundice

What Causes Jaundice?

When babies are born they have a lot of red blood cells going around their body. As these naturally break down they produce bilirubin which is yellow. This has to be cleared from the body by the liver. In the early weeks the liver is not fully developed so some of the bilirubin carries on travelling around the body causing the yellow of jaundice.

About 80% of babies will have some jaundice – mostly it will be gone in two weeks (three weeks if your baby was premature, 4 weeks if fully breastfed). Most babies will have no problems because of their jaundice.

Having jaundice does NOT mean your baby has liver disease. However if jaundice makes your baby so sleepy they cannot feed as much as they need to, or lasts longer than usual it can make them unwell. If this happens they may need treatment to help them clear the bilirubin from their system.

To make sure your baby does not get poorly from jaundice midwives, health visitors and GP's will talk to you about your baby whenever they see or speak to you. They will ask you about the colour of your baby’s skin and how well they are feeding. They will want to know how often they are pooing or weeing as well as what colour that poo or wee is.

It is a good idea to know what you should be aware of and when you should get advice. Have a look below at what you should expect and when to get medical advice.



  • Newborn Babies should;

    • Have clear wee like water.
    • Have yellow poo (after all the black poo (meconium) has passed through). *Click here* to see what colour is normal.
    • Wake up to feed (ask to be fed at least 4 hourly without needing to be woken up).
    • Be alert when awake  - eyes open and looking around.
    • ‘Normal coloured skin for (their ethnicity) and clear whites of the eyes.

     Tell someone if;

    • Your baby’s poo is pale or chalky in colour.
    • Your baby’s wee is yellow or dark.
    • Your baby is not weeing or pooing as much as they were or not at all.
    • Your baby’s skin or the whites of their eyes appear yellow.
    • Your baby is very sleepy and not waking for feeds OR you have trouble waking them for feeds.

    If you are worried that your baby is unwell – Please don’t wait for a visit or call. Call your GP, 111 or Midwife straightaway to get advice. There is always someone to ask 24/7.

  • You and the healthcare team are likely to spot if your baby has jaundice just by the colour of their skin. Keeping a close eye on how they are feeding and their nappies is important. You might be advised to wake them more often for feeds to make sure they get the fluids they need. This is often enough and the levels will naturally get lower over the next few days.

    If your baby is jaundiced and this is affecting their feeding, they are very sleepy, or there are concerns about their wee or poo, your midwife or GP might decide they need a test to see if their jaundice level is high enough to need treatment. Only about 1 in 20 babies will have a level high enough for treatment.

    The common tests are;

    • Shining a special light on your baby’s skin with a ‘bilirubinometer.’ This can read the level of bilirubin by how much light is reflected off the skin.
    • A blood test – usually only needed if your baby is already on NICU, has become poorly or if the jaundice appears in the first 24hrs after birth. The blood can be taken from a heel prick.

    They may need to retest over a few days and more if the level needs treatment.

    If medical staff are concerned that your baby’s jaundice levels are high enough to need treatment they will explain what happens next. There are several ways newborn jaundice can be treated. It is very important that high levels of jaundice are treated as it can be harmful if the level is not reduced as soon as possible.

    *Click here* to read more about the way high levels of bilirubin (jaundice) are treated.

    If the jaundice does not clear up in the expected length of time for your baby, they will need further tests. This is because in very rare cases it can be a sign of liver disease. It is important any baby who has a liver problem finds out and gets early treatment. Your health visitor or GP will answer your questions about this.

Who Can Help?

You can contact the Healthy Child Programme by calling Just One Number on 0300 300 0123 or texting Parentline on 07520 631590. Our opening hours are 8am-6pm Monday-Friday (excluding bank holidays) and 9am-1pm on Saturdays.

If you are 11-19 you can text Chathealth on 07480 635060 for confidential advice from one of the Healthy Child Programme team.

Other parents who are going through or have been through this before can be a big help. You could join our online forum to speak to other Norfolk Parents below.

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