Jaundice is a common and usually harmless condition in newborn babies, which refers to the yellow colour of the skin and whites of the eyes that happens when there is too much bilirubin in the blood. Bilirubin is a pigment produced by your baby’s red blood cells. Normally, it passes through the liver, which releases it into the intestines as bile (a liquid that helps with digestion).

Jaundice happens when bilirubin builds up faster than it can be broken down by a newborn baby's liver. This is because newborns make more bilirubin than adults do and also because their liver is still developing and might not be capable enough to remove all the bilirubin from the blood. Sometimes your baby's intestines absorb bilirubin that would normally leave the body in the stool. 

There are several types of jaundices, including:

Physiological (normal) jaundice: Most newborns have this mild jaundice because their liver is still maturing. It often appears when your baby is 2 to 4 days old and disappears by 1 to 2 weeks of age.

Jaundice of prematurity: This is common in premature babies since their bodies are even less ready to excrete bilirubin effectively. To avoid complications, they'll be treated even when their bilirubin levels are lower than those of full-term babies with normal jaundice.

Breastfeeding jaundice: Jaundice can happen when breastfeeding babies don't get enough breast milk due to difficulty in feeding. This is not caused by a problem with the breast milk itself, but by the baby not getting enough of it. 

Breast milk jaundice: In very rare cases of breastfed babies, jaundice is caused by substances in breast milk that can make the bilirubin level rise. 

Blood group incompatibility: If a mother and baby have different blood types, the mother's body might produce antibodies that destroy the infant's red blood cells, which increases bilirubin in your baby's blood.​

A jaundiced baby's skin will appear yellow on the face, chest, stomach and legs. Sometimes, jaundice also makes the whites of your baby's eyes look yellow.

Signs of jaundice start to appear around the second or third day of life. Jaundice can sometimes be hard to spot, especially if your baby has dark skin. If you are unsure about the signs, try to spot it by gently pressing the skin on your baby's nose or forehead, which will turn yellow after you lift your finger from his or her face. Try to examine your baby’s skin in good lighting conditions, preferably in natural daylight.

Sometimes infants with jaundice may feel too tired and not eat properly. Sometimes newborn babies with jaundice have dark yellow urine, which is alarming because a newborns’ urine should be colourless. They may also have pale-coloured stool, whereas it should be of a distinctive yellow or orange colour in a newborn.

It is recommended that newborns should be examined for jaundice between the third and seventh day after birth and during routine medical checks at least every eight to twelve hours while in the hospital.

If your baby’s skin becomes more yellow with time, he/she becomes lethargic, isn’t gaining weight, not feeding properly or you see any alarming symptoms, make an appointment to consult with our expert doctors and nurses working with the Children’s Hospital Services at The Aga Khan University Hospital. You can be assured of receiving multidisciplinary care under one roof at the only internationally accredited hospital in Pakistan.

Your time with your doctor maybe limited, so make sure to prepare for your visit beforehand. Here are some tips to help get you started.​​

Jaundice in babies can be tested in a number of ways. First is a physical examination to look for signs of jaundice. Your doctor working with the <Children’s Hospital Services> at The Aga Khan University Hospital will check the whites of your baby's eyes, his or her skin and colour of urine or stool.

Another way to test for jaundice is by checking the level of bilirubin in your baby’s body. Bilirubin is measured by taking a blood sample 

Sometimes, if jaundice lasts for more than two weeks, a series of other tests may be necessary to determine the cause. These include checking the blood group for compatibility with the mother, checking for antibodies, infection or enzyme deficiency.

Other tests, to aid in the diagnosis, may include:

  1. Complete Blood Count (CBC): To evaluate red cell hemolysis as a possible cause of jaundice. Furthermore, if hemolysis is the cause of jaundice, it may also give clue towards the underlying etiology and further diagnostic workup.
  2. Direct Coombs/ Antiglobulin test (DAT): It is usually positive if jaundice is due to immune- mediated red cell hemolysis.
  3. Prothrombin Time (PT): One of the laboratory parameters to assess liver function in case of jaundice.

    Disclaimer: Kindly consult your physician before getting the above-mentioned tests.

Most newborns with jaundice don't need treatment because the level of bilirubin in their blood is pretty low.  In such cases, the baby’s condition usually improves within 10 to 14 days without causing any harm.

If your baby's jaundice doesn't improve over time or there is still a high level of bilirubin in their blood, they may be treated with phototherapy to reduce the risk of developing a serious condition called kernicterus, which is rare but can cause brain damage if it occurs.

Phototherapy is a process in which a bright light in shined on your baby. This increases the excretion of bilirubin from your baby’s blood. 

In more extreme cases, an exchange transfusion may be recommended. In this process, small amount of your baby’s blood is replaced with healthy blood from a suitable donor.

If jaundice is caused by an underlying health problem, such as an infection, this needs to be treated in order to cure the jaundice.​

The Aga Khan University Hospital offers various support services to help with managing or recovering from the disease or condition. These include but are not limited to nutrition, physiotherapy, rehabilitation, specialized clinics and some patient support groups. Your doctor or nurse will advise you accordingly.​

The Aga Khan University Hospital offers financial assistance to those who are in need and fulfil the eligibility criteria. For further information, you can contact the Patient Welfare Department. You can find the contact number of the Patient Welfare Department in the ‘Important Numbers’ section on the website homepage.

The financial counselling staff is available during office hours, at the main PBSD (Patient Business Services Department), to answer your financial queries on treatments’ costs and authorize admissions on partial deposit as per hospital policies allow. The financial counsellor in the emergency room is open 24/7. You can find the contact number of the Patient Business Services in the ‘Important Numbers’ section on the website homepage.

Your doctor and or nurse will give you specific instructions about the prescribed medication. Please ensure that you take or use the prescribed medicine as advised. It can be dangerous to your health if you self-prescribe. Please inform the doctor or nurse beforehand if you have experienced any adverse reactions to any medications in the past. If you experience any symptoms of drug poisoning, overdose or severe reaction please contact the Pharmacy Service at The Aga Khan University Hospital immediately. You can find the contact number of the Pharmacy Services in the ‘Important Numbers’ section on the website homepage.​​

The information provided on our website is for educational purposes and not intended to be a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. You should always seek the advice of your doctor or other healthcare professional provider.