Bringing Baby Home-What is Jaundice?

Updated August 15th, 2019

Jaundice is a common newborn condition where your baby’s skin turns yellow. It is caused by too much bilirubin in your baby’s blood.

What is bilirubin?

  • Bilirubin is a yellow pigment that is released when the liver breaks down red blood cells.
  • Because your baby’s liver is still immature it cannot remove bilirubin fast enough so it builds up in the blood. This causes your baby’s skin to turn yellow (known as jaundice).
  • As your baby eats the bilirubin is removed from his body in his poop and pee.

Where will I see the jaundice on my baby?

  • Jaundice usually starts on the face. Then it spreads to your baby’s body and finally to their arms and legs. Most cases of jaundice are normal and not harmful and go away within a few days or weeks with no special treatment.

How do I prevent jaundice?

  • Your baby gets rid of the bilirubin through pooping and peeing.
  • For your baby to poop and pee, she needs to be feeding well.
  • Breastfeed/bottle feed your baby often; at least 8 times in 24 hours (day and night).
  • See the chart below for how often your baby should be pooping and peeing.

How do I know if my baby has a high bilirubin level?

  • Bilirubin levels are measured with a blood test or with a light machine that measures bilirubin in the skin.
  • Babies born in Winnipeg hospitals have their bilirubin levels checked before they go home.
  • Parents are given a copy of this form (discharge information-newborn jaundice) that shows what the bilirubin level was in the hospital and if it needs to be checked again. Some babies need to have another blood test after they get home. If you are not sure what to do or if you do not have this paper then call your doctor or public health nurse. 
  • Your health care provider will check one of the boxes on the form which explains what you need to do. See below for what the boxes look like.

When should I be concerned about my baby’s jaundice? What should I do?

A high bilirubin (jaundice) level can be dangerous. Call your baby’s health care provider and ask for a same-day appointment if your baby:

  • Starts to turn yellow (skin, whites of the eyes, arms, and legs) after you get home
  • Is getting more yellow or orange (skin, whites of eyes, arms and legs)
  • Will not breast or bottle feed or baby is too sleepy to feed for 2 or more feeds
  • Is sleepy/difficult to wake up
If you cannot get a hold of your baby’s doctor that day, go to Children’s Emergency at Health Science Centre.

Hot Parent Tip:

Breastfeeding is a learned skill for mothers and babies. It requires patience and practice. Get help right away if breastfeeding is not going well for you and your baby. For more information on breastfeeding click here.