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Jaundice of the newborn; Neonatal hyperbilirubinemia; Bili lights - jaundice
Newborn jaundice is a condition marked by high levels of bilirubin in the blood. The increased bilirubin causes the infant's skin and whites of the eyes (sclera) to look yellow.
Bilirubin is a yellow pigment that is created in the body during the normal recycling of old red blood cells. The liver helps break down bilirubin so that it can be removed from the body in the stool.
Before birth, the placenta -- the organ that nourishes the developing baby -- removes the bilirubin from the infant so that it can be processed by the mother's liver. Immediately after birth, the baby's own liver begins to take over the job, but this can take time. Therefore, bilirubin levels in an infant are normally a little higher after birth.
High levels of bilirubin in the body can cause the skin to look yellow. This is called jaundice.
Jaundice is present to some degree in most newborns, and is called "physiological jaundice." It usually appears between day 2 and 3, peaks between days 2 and 4, and clears by 2 weeks. Physiological jaundice usually causes no problems.
Other types of jaundice that usually cause no harm include:
Babies who are born too early (premature) are more likely to develop jaundice than full-term babies.
Conditions that increase the number of red blood cells that need to be broken down, and can cause more severe newborn jaundice:
Conditions that make it harder for the baby's body to remove bilirubin may also lead to more severe jaundice:
American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). Management of hyperbilirubinemia in the newborn infant 35 or more weeks of gestation. Pediatrics. 2004;114:297-316.
Mercier CE, Barry SE, Paul K, et al. Improving newborn preventive services at the birth hospitalization: a collaborative, hospital-based quality-improvement project. Pediatrics. 2007;120:481-488.
Moerschel SK, Cianciaruso LB, Tracy LR. A practical approach to neonatal jaundice. Am Fam Physician. 2008;77:1255-1262.
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