What is Jaundice?

Jaundice refers to a yellow tint of the skin usually due to liver immaturity in newborns or liver disease in older children. In these conditions, bile pigments accumulate in the blood stream and are deposited in the skin. It is the liver’s job to rid the body of these bile pigments. The liver of a newborn infant is not mature enough to do this job hence the bile pigments accumulate and the child can become jaundiced. Usually by five days of life, the infant’s liver is mature enough to take care of the bilirubin load. Most all babies develop some degree of jaundice which is a little more pronounced in breast fed babies. It is rarely a cause for concern. If jaundice develops in the lower legs and/or feet or lasts more than five days, call your physician for an appointment.

Jaundice which develops after the newborn period can be due to liver disease. All such children who develop jaundice should have a routine office visit to check this.

Sometimes, young children who eat a lot of yellow vegetables (carrots and squash) develop a yellowish tint to their skin, but not in the whites of the eyes. This is known as carotenemia and is not truly jaundice. It is harmless, requires no treatment and resolves with age.