Underlying conditions that may cause jaundice in newborns

Most often, jaundice in a newborn resolves on its own without any problems. However, sometimes high levels of bilirubin in a newborn's blood are caused by an underlying condition. In these babies, treatment for the underlying condition is needed to resolve the jaundice.

Jaundice that appears less than 24 hours after birth needs to be evaluated carefully for another possible cause, such as:1

  • Blood type incompatibility or other blood problems. Differences in blood type between a mother and her newborn, as well as certain other conditions, can cause the newborn's red blood cells to be destroyed. Bilirubin is released when red blood cells are destroyed.
  • Disorders of the digestive system. Any condition that interferes with the digestive system's ability to process and eliminate bilirubin may result in jaundice. Some of these conditions include disorders that are present at birth, including problems with the liver and bile ducts and blockage of the bowel.
  • Infection. Serious kidney infections, hepatitis, toxoplasmosis, and rubella are infectious diseases that can lead to jaundice.


  1. American Academy of Pediatrics (2004). Management of hyperbilirubinemia in the newborn infant 35 or more weeks of gestation. Pediatrics, 114(1): 297–316.

Last Updated: May 27, 2008

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