Liver disease in children is rare but the sooner it is detected the better. Here we outline the symptoms and what to be aware of.
The early diagnosis of liver disease can save lives so it’s important that parents and healthcare professionals are aware of the symptoms. There are two main signs to be aware of – prolonged jaundice (yellowing of the skin and the whites of the eyes) and persistently pale coloured stools (baby poo).
What is jaundice?
Jaundice is very common in newborn babies. Up to 80% of babies will become jaundiced two or three days after birth; much of this is normal and responding to a baby’s need for frequent feeds can help. Jaundice is caused by your baby having an increased level of bilirubin in their blood and it is important that it is monitored to ensure that the bilirubin level doesn’t get too high. (Bilirubin is a component of red blood cells. It is excreted in bile and urine, and elevated levels may indicate certain diseases.)
Jaundice reaches its peak at about four days of life and then gradually disappears in most babies by the time they are two weeks old. Jaundice doesn’t necessarily mean your baby is ill. If, however, the jaundice persists after two weeks (three weeks for a pre-term baby) you should consult your GP to find out whether the jaundice is a sign of liver disease.
What colour should my baby’s nappies be?
If your baby is breastfed, their nappies should be green or daffodil yellow in colour. If they are bottle fed they should be green or English mustard yellow.
A newborn baby’s urine should be colourless. If your baby’s urine is yellow and/or the nappies are pale, this can be a sign of liver disease and you should report it to your midwife, health visitor or doctor immediately. You might find it useful to take a look at the Yellow Alert Stool Chart which shows normal ranges of colour for baby poo and colours that might indicate liver disease.
What should I ask my doctor to do?
If your baby is showing either of the above symptoms, it is vital that they have a blood test called a split bilirubin blood test to find out whether they have liver disease. Your baby should be referred to a specialist paediatric liver unit for further investigation.
This page was last reviewed in April 2018.
Our support line offers practical and emotional support with feeding your baby and general enquiries for parents, members and volunteers: 0300 330 0700.
You might find attending one of our Early Days groups helpful as they give you the opportunity to explore different approaches to important parenting issues with a qualified group leader and other new parents in your area.
Make friends with other parents-to-be and new parents in your local area for support and friendship by seeing what NCT activities are happening nearby.
The Children’s Liver Disease Foundation is dedicated to fighting all forms of childhood liver disease. Their Yellow Alert campaign promotes the early diagnosis of liver disease in newborns.
NHS Choices has information about newborn jaundice