Infant Jaundice | Causes & Risk Factors


What causes jaundice?

Jaundice is caused when too much bilirubin builds up in your baby’s body. Bilirubin is made when the body breaks down old red blood cells. This is a normal process that happens all through life. Usually, the liver filters bilirubin from the bloodstream, but an infant’s liver might not yet be developed enough to filter out the bilirubin. If bilirubin builds up in your baby's body, it can give your baby jaundice.

In some cases, jaundice is caused by an underlying problem, such as bleeding, infection, or a liver condition.

What are the risk factors for jaundice?

Your baby is more likely to have jaundice if he or she is:

  • Premature (born before 38 weeks): A premature baby is more likely to have an immature liver and have fewer bowel movements than a full-term baby. This means that a premature baby might not be able to remove bilirubin as quickly as a full-term baby.
  • Bruised during birth: Bruises create more red blood cells that need to be turned into bilirubin, which can raise bilirubin levels in the bloodstream.
  • Having trouble breast-feeding: Babies who have trouble breast-feeding may be dehydrated or have a low calorie intake. This can increase the risk of jaundice. Ask your doctor for help if you or your baby are having trouble breast-feeding.


Hyperbilirubinemia in the Term Newborn by ML Porter, CPT, MC, USA, and BL Dennis, MAJ, MC, USA (American Family Physician February 15, 2002,

Written by editorial staff

Reviewed/Updated: 04/14
Created: 04/03