Jaundice | Overview


What is jaundice?

Jaundice (say: "john-diss") is an illness that can happen in the first few days of a baby's life. It turns your baby's skin, eyes and mouth a yellow color. The yellow color is caused by bilirubin.

Bilirubin is made when the body breaks down old red blood cells. This is a normal process that happens all through life. Bilirubin goes to the liver, where it is changed again. Then it goes into the intestines and the kidneys, and then it goes out of the body. If too much bilirubin builds up in your baby's body, it makes a yellow color called jaundice.

Jaundice is common in babies and is usually not serious.

Why do some babies get jaundice?

Red blood cells have a shorter life in babies than they do in adults. This means more bilirubin goes through your baby's liver. If your baby's skin is bruised during birth, more red cells may need to be broken down. Then your baby's liver has to handle even more bilirubin. Sometimes a baby's liver is not mature enough to handle the extra bilirubin.


Hyperbilirubinemia in the Term Newborn by ML Porter, CPT, MC, USA, and BL Dennis, MAJ, MC, USA (American Family Physician February 15, 2002, http://www.aafp.org/afp/20020215/599.html)

Written by familydoctor.org editorial staff

Reviewed/Updated: 02/10
Created: 04/03