Q: My baby's skin looks yellow. Is that serious?
A: It depends on his age. In young babies, that yellow discoloration of the skin is known as jaundice, and it's a common problem in newborns. It's caused by bilirubin, a substance that accumulates in the blood. As the baby's liver matures -- usually within a week or two of birth -- the yellowish tone of his skin should fade away. But because many moms and their babies are discharged from the hospital soon after birth, some babies may be home when their jaundice level peaks, typically at 3 to 5 days of age.
If the bilirubin levels get too high and go untreated, the jaundice can lead to kernicterus, a type of brain damage. If your infant's skin seems yellow and he's very sleepy, not feeding well, or losing weight, he needs to see a doctor right away. This is also why all newborns should be seen by a doctor or nurse within a day or two of coming home from the hospital. If your baby is in the hospital for three days or longer, a doctor will then decide if a follow-up visit is required to check for jaundice following discharge. Fortunately, jaundice is usually easy to treat.
When an older baby has yellow skin, however, it's often a sign of a harmless condition called carotenemia, which comes from eating foods with a lot of beta-carotene, such as sweet potatoes, carrots, and, sometimes, less obvious foods like chicken. You don't need to change your baby's diet; it's nothing to worry about. The easiest way to tell them apart: With jaundice, the whites of the eyes also look yellow. --Sharlene K. Johnson and Sharon Anne Waldrop
Copyright 2009 Meredith Corporation.