Prolonged Neonatal Jaundice

This leaflet offers more information about prolonged neonatal jaundice. If you have any further questions or concerns, please speak to the staff member in charge of your baby’s care.

What is prolonged jaundice and why has my baby got it?

A baby with jaundice will have a yellow colouring of their skin and the whites of their eyes. This is very common in newborns. Jaundice is caused when the baby’s blood has raised levels of bilirubin, which is a normal waste product usually removed by the liver.

Bilirubin levels just after birth build up too fast for the liver to filter it all out and jaundice then occurs. Jaundice is prolonged when it lasts for more than 14 days in babies born on time or more than 21 days in babies born early.

For most babies, there is no illness causing their prolonged jaundice. It is more common in babies who are breast fed and, although it is not known why this is, it is harmless. This is called “breast milk jaundice”.

What are the signs and symptoms?

The whites of your baby’s eyes and often their skin will appear yellow.

Most babies with jaundice do not have any other symptoms but some may also:

  • Have dark urine (wee)
  • Have pale stools (poo) instead of yellow or green
  • Be excessively sleepy
  • Not be feeding well

Does my baby need any tests to confirm the diagnosis?

Prolonged jaundice is generally breast milk jaundice but it can rarely mean there is a blood problem, infection, thyroid problem or liver disease. Liver disease must be treated quickly, so it is important to catch it early.

To rule out liver disease, we will ask questions, examine your baby and do some blood tests. We will then look for the type of jaundice and for other possible causes.

If there is nothing that needs to be acted upon quickly, the test results will be posted to your GP and you will be sent a copy. You should get this within two weeks.

Is there anything I can do to help my baby?

You can safely continue breastfeeding your baby. Even if your baby is jaundiced, breastfeeding has lots of benefits for baby and mum, so we strongly encourage you to keep doing it.

What treatments are available?

Most babies with prolonged jaundice don’t need any treatment. The jaundice is harmless and usually wears off by 12-16 weeks of age.

If your baby’s tests show that there may be a problem, we will contact you to let you know. Your baby may then need more blood tests and may be referred to the specialist liver centre at Leeds Childrens Hospital. We will discuss this with you so that you know what is going to happen and what it all means.

Further information

You can find more information about jaundice on the NHS website.

Data Protection

Any personal information is kept confidential.  There may be occasions where your information needs to be shared with other care professionals to ensure you receive the best care possible.

In order to assist us to improve the services available, your information may be used for clinical audit, research, teaching and anonymised for National NHS Reviews and Statistics.  

Further information is available via Gateshead Health NHS Foundation Trust website or by contacting the Data Protection Officer by telephone on 0191 445 8418 or by email ghnt.ig.team@nhs.net.

This leaflet can be made available in other languages and formats upon request