Yellow chemical that is a normal waste product from the breakdown of hemoglobin and other similar body components. The placenta clears bilirubin from the fetus’s blood, but after delivery this task belongs to the infant. It usually takes a week or more for the newborn’s liver to adjust to its new workload. When bilirubin accumulates, it makes the skin and eyes look yellow, a condition called jaundice.
A little jaundice can be expected in all newborns. If the jaundice is higher than usual, it can usually be treated with phototherapy (special lights). If the level of bilirubin gets extremely high, brain injury is a risk. With modern treatment techniques such as phototherapy, such dangers rarely occur. Phototherapy is so effective in helping the liver excrete bilirubin that elevated levels are rarely a problem. Prematurely born infants may have elevated bilirubin levels for several weeks.