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  • Writer's picturePriya Thomas

Understanding Newborn Jaundice: Importance of Monitoring Bilirubin Levels

Newborns bring bundles of joy into our lives, but they also come with their own set of health considerations, one of which is jaundice. In this article, we'll delve into the significance of monitoring bilirubin levels in newborns and the importance of early detection and treatment.

Newborns and Bilirubin Levels:

When a baby is born, their bilirubin levels are closely monitored, typically through either transcutaneous or serum testing methods. It's crucial to keep an eye on these levels as elevated bilirubin levels can indicate jaundice or increased bilirubin in the blood.

Transcutaneous Bilirubin (TcB) Testing:

Transcutaneous bilirubin testing is a non-invasive method that measures bilirubin levels by sending a flash of light through the skin1. This method is painless and provides almost immediate results. It’s a reliable screening tool for detecting hyperbilirubinemia in newborns. The high sensitivity of TcB suggests that it’s a reliable screening test for ruling out hyperbilirubinemia in newborn infants. However, positive test results would require confirmation through serum bilirubin measurement.

Serum Bilirubin (TSB) Testing:

Serum bilirubin testing, on the other hand, involves collecting a sample of blood from the newborn, usually by making a small cut in the heel or inserting a needle into a vein. This method can be painful for the infant. The blood sample is then tested in a laboratory to measure the total serum bilirubin.

Understanding the Risks:

Jaundice is a condition that can make a baby’s skin and eyes look yellow. It happens when there’s too much of a substance called bilirubin in the baby’s blood. This can occur if the baby’s body is making more bilirubin than it can get rid of, or if the baby isn’t able to get rid of the bilirubin effectively.

Bilirubin is a yellow substance that the body creates when it replaces old red blood cells. The liver helps break down bilirubin so that it can be removed from the body in the stool. If the bilirubin level gets too high and isn’t treated, it can build up in the blood and other tissues and fluids of the baby’s body. This is called hyperbilirubinemia. Too much bilirubin moving from the blood into other tissues can cause a type of brain damage called bilirubin-induced neurologic dysfunction (BIND).

Importance of Early Detection:

Doctors, especially pediatricians, keep a close eye on bilirubin levels in newborn babies. In the first few days after birth, it’s normal for a baby’s bilirubin level to go up. This happens because the baby’s body is getting rid of extra red blood cells, which is a normal part of the transition from life in the womb.

However, it’s important to make sure that the bilirubin level doesn’t get too high. That’s why doctors track not just the bilirubin number itself, but also how fast it’s increasing. If the level becomes concerning, early detection allows doctors to start treatment promptly. This can prevent the bilirubin level from rising to a point where it could be harmful to the baby.


Phototherapy is the primary treatment for elevated bilirubin levels in newborns. This therapy involves exposing the baby's skin to special lights that help break down excess bilirubin, allowing the body to eliminate it more effectively.

Monitoring bilirubin levels in newborns is a crucial aspect of early pediatric care. By staying vigilant and ensuring that babies receive timely testing and treatment, your pediatrician can help prevent complications associated with jaundice. Remember, the first one to two days after birth are particularly critical for testing, so don't hesitate to discuss this with your healthcare provider if you have any concerns about your baby's health.

Learn more about our Johns Creek pediatric services.



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