Jaundice in Newborns

Newborns especially preterm babies have a high amount of red blood cells in their body. Both the spleen and bone marrow are producers in the initial days following birth. The rate of destruction of red blood cells is slower due to slow metabolism and the amount of bilirubin produced is considerably high.

High bilirubin in newborns causes jaundice. This is a physiological process and passes away within a few days post birth. Only in very few cases the jaundice needs to be medically treated.

Suboptimal intake jaundice or breastfeeding jaundice occurs in the first week of life when breastfeeding is being established. This also occurs due to high bilirubin levels.

Breast milk jaundice usually occurs in the 2nd or 3rd week post birth. It is thought to occur due to some property of the mother’s milk which causes slower passage of meconium via the intestines and leads to higher levels of bilirubin.

The following are the possible reasons for higher levels of bilirubin:

  1. Reabsorption of bilirubin in the intestines due to slow passage of meconium.
  2. High red blood destruction causes high levels of bilirubin.
  3. Weak liver metabolism as the liver is still immature at birth.
  4. Inadequate milk delays the passage of stool via the intestines.


  1. Yellowish discoloration of skin, mucous membranes, and sclera.
  2. High-pitched crying.
  3.  Poor-feeding.
  4. Lethargy/excessive sleepiness.
  5. Light-colored stool.


It is best to continue breast feeding, despite signs of jaundice. The more milk intake, the quicker the metabolism of the baby.

If jaundice is severe, phototherapy is recommended.

Doctors advise the mothers to expose the kid to sun, early in the morning for 20-30 minutes, indirectly. The sun breaks down the bilirubin quickly and enhances metabolism.  

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