Yellow Baby: Jaundice in the Newborn

I believe that in the care of the newborn it is very important that everyone involved in the care of the baby knows what to expect especially in the first few days of life.

A young mother comes to the primary health center 4 days after delivery, she complains that her baby has been sleeping non-stop and not even responding properly or interacting like a newborn would just very inactive also baby was not sucking from the breast well, the doctor made a diagnosis of Jaundice. The doctor, however, explained to her what Jaundice was and what treatment would be carried out she was referred to a general hospital as the primary health center do not offer that level of care. This woman was quite observant to notice on time to get treated early, I have heard other stories of babies dying from jaundice due to late diagnosis of jaundice other times no space to get phototherapy treatment.

Jaundice in a newborn is a condition whereby the baby’s body releases more bilirubin than the body organ can excrete.  The excess bilirubin is therefore deposited under the skin why its termed “Yellow baby”, bilirubin is a substance released by the breakdown of old red blood cells in the body due to the liver not being matured enough to get rid of bilirubin effectively. Bilirubin is excreted during pregnancy through the placenta but after pregnancy, the baby must get rid of bilirubin on their own.  It is however not so obvious to a dark-skinned baby like a light skinned baby.  Jaundice is a serious condition if not well treated can lead to brain damage or death so every case of jaundice should be taken very seriously.

There are two main types of Jaundice:

  • Physiological Jaundice

This type of jaundice occurs after 24 hours of life and it usually resolves on its own after a week of occurring. This is common as it occurs due to their organs are not mature enough to get rid of excess bilirubin very well.

  • Pathologic Jaundice

This occurs within 24 hours of life and can be life-threatening. It usually occurs due to a condition, an infection or a problem with mummy and baby’s blood( RH Incompatibility).

 Symptoms of Jaundice

Yellow eyes and skin

Baby will be sluggish and not suck well

Baby will be cranky or jittery.

Baby will have a high pitched cry



If the baby has very high levels of bilirubin baby will be placed in a blue fluorescent light this is called phototherapy,  the skin absorbs this light and helps to break it down thereby causing the excretion of the bilirubin. This treatment is done in the hospital depending on the cause of jaundice and the severity blood transfusion may be required.


What can you do?

Look closely at the baby’s skin twice a day and check for any yellowing of the skin, if your baby is dark skinned look at the white part of the eyes.

Ensure you go for a follow-up appointment.

Find your way to the nearest hospital or primary health center if you observe any sluggishness or yellowing of the skin or eyes.

Ensure you are breastfeeding adequately, as proper breastfeeding helps to also get rid of bilirubin in the system.


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