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Testing for jaundice

Testing for jaundice

Your newborn baby should be checked for signs of jaundice at every opportunity, especially in the first 72 hours. This will include looking at your naked baby in bright light (natural light if possible) to see if they appear yellow. You can detect jaundice more easily by pressing lightly on the skin. A yellowing of the whites of the eyes and the gums are helpful indicators of jaundice, particularly in babies with darker skin tones. You or the doctor or midwife can carry out the check.

If it looks like your baby has jaundice, then it is important that the level of bilirubin is measured. The doctor or midwife shouldn't rely on visual inspection alone to estimate the bilirubin level. Measuring the level of bilirubin can be done very simply for most babies, using a special hand‑held device placed briefly on the skin (a 'bilirubinometer'). It won't hurt your baby. However, babies whose bilirubinometer reading is high, babies who are less than 24 hours old and some babies born prematurely (who are aged less than 35 weeks of pregnancy) will need a blood test. See below for more information about these tests.

The doctor or midwife will use the results of these tests to decide whether the jaundice needs to be treated, and what kind of treatment would be best. They should use a table or charts for this.

Your baby may have jaundice that lasts longer than your doctor or midwife expects. If so, you and your doctor or midwife should look for pale, chalky stools and/or dark urine and further blood and urine tests will be needed.

Measuring bilirubin levels in babies with jaundice

Babies in the first 24 hours

If your baby looks jaundiced in the first 24 hours after birth, your baby will need a blood test urgently (within 2 hours). This test measures the level of bilirubin in the blood to see if the jaundice needs to be treated. Once the doctor or midwife knows the results of the blood test, more tests may be needed to see if there is an underlying illness causing the jaundice.

Babies older than 24 hours

If your baby looks jaundiced and is older than 24 hours, the doctor or midwife should measure your baby's bilirubin level within 6 hours. This can usually be done using a bilirubinometer. If a bilirubinometer is not available, bilirubin levels can be measured using a blood test.

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