Standard recommendations for evaluating and treating jaundice in term babies include following all babies closely for jaundice, obtaining several laboratory tests in those with early jaundice or bilirubin levels more than 12 to 13 mg/dL (205 to 222 µmol/L), using phototherapy to try to keep bilirubin levels below 20 mg/dL (342 µmol/L), and doing exchange transfusions if phototherapy fails, regardless of the cause of the jaundice. These recommendations are likely to lead to unnecessary testing and treatment of many jaundiced term infants. Because most jaundiced infants have no underlying illness, and the generally recommended laboratory tests lack sensitivity and specificity, they are seldom useful. In most babies, the only blood tests needed to evaluate jaundice are the blood type and group (of baby and mother) and a direct Coombs' test. A determination of direct bilirubin level should be added if jaundice is prolonged (>2 to 4 weeks) or the baby has other signs of illness. Bilirubin toxicity is rare in term babies without hemolysis. In this low-risk group, the risks and cost of identifying and treating high bilirubin levels may exceed the benefits. Such infants need not be closely followed for jaundice. If significant jaundice is nonetheless found, treatment should be deferred to relatively high levels of serum bilirubin, with a goal of keeping bilirubin levels below 400 to 500 µmol/L (23.4 to 29.2 mg/dL). Babies with hemolytic disease should be followed more closely, and their bilirubin levels kept below 300 to 400 µmol/L (17.5 to 23.4 mg/dL). These recommendations should be reevaluated as new data become available. In the meantime, currently available data justify an approach to the jaundiced term infant that is less aggressive than previously recommended.
- Received August 2, 1991.
- Accepted November 12, 1991.
- Copyright © 1992 by the American Academy of Pediatrics