What is jaundice?

Jaundice is the name given to yellowing of the skin and the whites of the eyes due to your baby having an increased level of bilirubin in their blood. 

It’s very common in newborn babies with around 80% of newborns developing jaundice in the first 3-4 days after birth. It starts to disappear gradually after 4 days in most babies and is usually completely gone by the time your baby is 2 weeks old.  

When your baby is in the womb, the waste products are removed through the placenta, once they’re born their own body does this.

It can take some time for a baby’s liver to be able to remove waste products properly from the blood. Therefore, in the early days, some waste may build up in their body. 

One waste product is called bilirubin. Newborn babies have a higher number of red blood cells than adults, which are being broken down more quickly and therefore more bilirubin is made. If there’s too much bilirubin your baby will be jaundiced.

For reasons that are unclear, breastfeeding increases a baby's risk of developing jaundice, which can often persist for a month or longer. However, you shouldn’t stop breastfeeding if this is the case as the benefits far outweigh any risk associated with jaundice.

  • If your baby is less than 24 hours old and you suspect they have jaundice contact your midwife or GP.
  • Check your baby's urine and poo, if their urine is yellow (a newborn baby's urine should be colourless) or their poo is pale (it should be yellow or orange) they may have jaundice.
  • If at any time you think the jaundice is getting more obvious, rather than fading away, don’t wait for your next planned appointment, contact your midwife or health visitor for advice.
  • If your baby still has jaundice at two weeks old (or three weeks old if they were born before 37 weeks), your midwife or health visitor will arrange for your baby to have a blood and urine test so more serious medical problems can be ruled out.