Treatments, Complications & Prevention of Jaundice in Newborns

Usually the symptoms of newborn jaundice develop 2 to 3 days after the birth and tend to get better without treatment by the time the baby is about 2 weeks old.

Updated: October 7, 2017

Most often treatment for mild jaundice in newborn babies is unnecessary, as it tends to disappear on its own within 2 weeks. Usually the symptoms of newborn jaundice develop 2 to 3 days after the birth and tend to get better without treatment by the time the baby is about 2 weeks old.
In some less severe cases, treatment may be done at home. However if the newborn baby has severe jaundice, he/she may need to be readmitted to the hospital for treatment to lower the levels of bilirubin in the bloodstream.
There is a small risk that the bilirubin could pass into the brain and cause brain damage. Therefore treatments should be carried out in hospital to quickly reduce your baby's bilirubin levels.

Treatment of Jaundice in Newborns:

Some treatment options for severe jaundice include:

Phototherapy or light therapy:

The treatment is done by light rays. In this therapy, the baby is put under a special light, covered by a plastic shield to filter out ultraviolet light. The light manipulates the structure of bilirubin molecules so they can be more easily broken down by the liver and excreted.

Exchange Blood Transfusion :

In this procedure, the baby's blood is repeatedly withdrawn and then replaced with matching donor blood.  If phototherapy does not work, this procedure will be considered . Because the baby would need to be in an intensive care unit (ICU) for newborns.

Intravenous immunoglobulin (IVIg) :

In cases of ABO incompatibility, the baby may have a transfusion of immunoglobulin. Immunoglobulin is a protein in the blood that lowers the levels of antibodies from the mother, which are attacking the baby's red blood cells.
If jaundice is caused by any other underlying disorder, surgery or drug treatment may be required.

Complications of Jaundice in Newborns:

High levels of bilirubin that cause severe jaundice can result in serious complications if not treated in time.
The complications of jaundice in newborn babies include:

Acute Bilirubin Encephalopathy:

Bilirubin is toxic to cells of the brain. If a baby has severe jaundice, there is a risk of bilirubin passing into the brain, arising a condition called acute bilirubin encephalopathy.
Signs of acute bilirubin encephalopathy in a baby include fever, vomiting, sluggishness, high-pitched crying, poor feeding, and arching of the body or neck. Immediate treatment may prevent further damage.

Kernicterus or Nuclear Jaundice:

If acute bilirubin encephalopathy causes permanent damage to the brain, a potentially fatal syndrome occurs which is known as kernicterus.
When the levels of bilirubin in the blood is very high in newborn babies, the bilirubin can cross the thin layer of tissue that separates the brain and blood.The bilirubin can damage the brain or central nervous system and spinal cord, which can be life threatening.
Symptoms of kernicterus in babies include:

  • Decreased awareness of the world around them. for example, they may not react when you clap your hands in front of their face
  • Their muscles become unusually floppy, like a rag doll
  • Poor feeding
  • Seizures or fits
  • Arching of the neck or spine.

If significant brain damage occurs before treatment, a child can develop serious and permanent problems, such as:

  • involuntary twitching of different parts of their body
  • learning difficulties
  • A condition that affects a child's movement and co-ordination known as cerebral palsy
  • hearing loss which can range from mild to severe
  • problems maintaining normal eye movements, people affected by kernicterus have a tendency to gaze upwards or from side to side rather than straight ahead 
  • poor development of the teeth

Prevention of Jaundice in Newborns:

There is no real way to prevent newborn jaundice. But if your baby does have jaundice, there are ways you can prevent it from becoming more severe.
Make sure your baby is well fed and getting enough nutrition through breast milk. To keep the baby hydrated, feed your baby 8 to 12 times a day for the first several days. This will help bilirubin pass through their body more quickly.
If you are unable to breastfeed and choose to feed your baby formula, give your baby 1 to 2 ounces of formula every 2 to 3 hours for the first week. If your baby is taking too little or too much formula or if they won't wake to feed at least 8 times per 24 hours.
You should carefully monitor your baby the first five days of life for the symptoms of jaundice, such as yellowing of the skin and eyes. If you notice that your baby has the symptoms of jaundice, call your doctor immediately.


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