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Early Detection of Liver Disease in Newborns

In the first few days after birth, a newborn may have jaundice - a yellow appearance of the skin and the whites of the eyes. This can be normal for a healthy newborn.

Healthy Families BC, Baby wearing diapers

Jaundice is not normal if it lasts longer than two weeks and your newborn's stool is pale. This may be a sign of a rare liver disease called biliary atresia. Learn how to detect this rare disease.

Biliary atresia is a rare, but serious liver disease that begins to affect newborns in the first month of life. It is the most common reason children need a liver transplant. If not treated, it can lead to death by the age of two.

The symptoms of biliary atresia are:

  • Jaundice that lasts longer than two weeks and 
  • Pale yellow, chalk white, or clay-coloured stools (poop).

There is no single blood test for biliary atresia, so checking your baby's stool colour to determine if it is abnormal is the main way to detect this rare disease early.

As part of Biliary Atresia Home Screening Program, after the birth of your baby and before leaving the hospital, you are given a stool colour card that contains photos of normal and abnormal infant stool colours. If you have a home birth, you're given the stool colour card by your midwife.

Check your newborn's stool colour against the colour card every day for the first month after birth. If you see an abnormal stool colour, call or email the Biliary Atresia Home Screening Program directly.

Resources and Links:
Perinatal Services BC: Biliary Artesia Home Screening Program
Jaundice in Newborns

Last Updated: June 11, 2014