Doctors and nurses should take a blood test within two hours of the birth of a baby with suspected or obvious jaundice and not rely solely on appearance, according to new guidance issued by a health watchdog.
Severe jaundice can lead to a kernicterus, a neurological condition linked to hearing loss, cerebral palsy, sight and dental problems. Jaundice that goes on for a prolonged period could indicate underlying liver disease that requires urgent attention.
The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) has published new guidelines for health workers informing them not to rely solely on how a baby looks, as it can be difficult to gauge the severity of the condition, especially in children with darker skin.
Other key recommendations include examining babies frequently in the first 72 hours after birth and identifying those whose jaundice may go on to cause damage.
Serum bilirubin levels should be checked and recorded via a blood test within two hours of birth and measured every six hours in the first 24 hours for babies with jaundice or suspected jaundice.
When babies with suspected jaundice are more than 24 hours old, a scanning device called a transcutaneous bilirubinometer (TBM) should be used to assess those who were delivered after the 35th week of pregnancy.
A serum bilirubin test should always be used for babies born under 35 weeks and who are jaundiced in the first 24 hours of life, the guidance says.
It also contains new recommendations on the use of light therapy and blood transfusions for more serious cases.