causes and symptoms infantile jaundice

Causes and Symptoms of Infantile Jaundice

Jaundice is the yellow discoloration of the skin and eyes as a result of too much bilirubin in the blood stream. Since jaundice is itself a symptom, it can make parents aware of the other symptoms that accompany less common causes of infantile jaundice. Here’s a look at the symptoms associated with other causes of infantile jaundice. 

What is Jaundice? 

Although the most common cause of infantile jaundice is simply the underdeveloped liver of a newborn (physiologic jaundice), there are other causes as well.  Infantile jaundice is a result of from too much bilirubin in an infants blood stream. Bilirubin is involved with the red blood cells, generally excreted through waste. In most cases, infantile jaundice clears up quickly and without complication, but this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t talk to your newborn’s doctor if you notice the signs. 
Physiologic jaundice generally goes away on its own, but other causes of infant jaundice may need more intensive treatment to prevent ongoing complications and even fatality. Talk to your pediatrician immediately if you notice a jaundiced appearance of your infant. 

Rh Incompatibility

Rh incompatibility arises when the blood types of mother and child don’t match up. Maternal antibodies attack essential parts of the natal system, including the red blood cells. Called rhesus factor disease, this can potentially lead to hemolytic anemia. In addition to jaundice, an Rh incompatibility may cause a buildup of fluids due to heart failure. Hemolytic anemia can cause a variety of symptoms as well, although the most obvious in babies is pale skin. 


Several types of infections can lead to an increase of bilirubin, and thus jaundice. Neonatal sepsis, a severe and potentially fatal infection, develops from an infection during the birthing process. Signs generally begin within the first 24 hours of life and may include vomiting and diarrhea, fewer than normal bowel movements, problems breathing, temperature changes, abnormal heart rate, a decrease in movement or sucking, a swollen abdomen, and even seizures. 
If you notice any of these signs after bringing your baby home, call your pediatrician immediately and expect to head to the hospital. Other infections that can cause jaundice may be viral or bacterial, and include urinary tract infections.  


Neonatal adrenal hemorrhage (NAH) (extensive bleeding, including internal bleeding) in newborns is generally the result of a “traumatic delivery” or maternal complications such as “hypoxia, hypertension, or coagulopathy,” according to the National Institute of Health (NIH). NAH may not necessarily occur immediately, but signs should evolve in the first few weeks. If something happens during labor, such as birth asphyxia, it’s very important for both you and your baby’s health care team to look for signs of hemorrhage. In addition to jaundice, this may include cranial swelling or other masses.  


Since the liver is in charge of appropriately expelling bilirubin, jaundice is most often associated with liver diseases. Although rare, newborn liver malfunctions or abnormalities are possible. The NIH reports the causes of neonatal liver issues include “viral infection, hereditary metabolic diseases, neoplasia and vascular problems.” Not all causes are treatable and, furthermore, some of the available treatments are experimental. Additionally, although the signs associated with the different neonatal liver diseases may be evident in the first few days, some may take closer to two months. If liver issues run in your family, make sure to discuss this with your pediatrician.  

Other Abnormalities

Infantile jaundice can be caused by other issues that begin early in life. Neonatal hypothyroidism, for example, is a congenital form of thyroid disease in which the thyroid doesn’t produce enough of the associated hormones. Severe hypothyroidism may cause your baby to look dull or puffy look, have a protruding tongue, and eventually brittle hair, constipation, fatigue, hoarseness, and difficulty feeding, among other issues
Enzyme problems, such as Crigler-Najjar syndrome, which affects the enzyme that processes bilirubin, may also cause jaundice. Glucose 6 phosphate dehydrogenase (G6PD) is also an enzymatic issue. Additionally, the red blood cells can break down as a result of an abnormality; red blood cells produce bilirubin as they break down. Too much of it at once can be difficult to get rid of.