My newborn’s skin looks yellow. Should I take her to the hospital? Many babies have a yellow tinge to their skin or eyes a few days after birth. The colour is from a substance called bilirubin, an orange-yellow pigment that occurs normally when your red blood cells break down. The liver typically modifies the bilirubin and babies poop it out, but because they often aren’t eating or excreting much in the first few days, it sometimes takes a while for this process to kick in properly.
Babies undergo a simple heel-poke blood test to check for jaundice (too much bilirubin) at 24 hours of age to ensure their levels are safe. High bilirubin levels can stem from many causes, but the most common is that a baby is not yet getting enough milk and therefore not pooping out enough bilirubin. As milk intake increases and baby pees and poos more, the jaundice level typically decreases. Jaundice tends to peak between three and five days after birth, so if you find your baby becoming more jaundiced, lethargic or dehydrated, or if she is not feeding well, please see your doctor or midwife as soon as possible.
If the bilirubin level is too high, your baby will be treated with phototherapy or lights designed to decrease bilirubin by breaking it down like the liver would. Most children receive phototherapy for 24 hours or less. Putting your baby outside or near a window will not accomplish the same effects as phototherapy, and a delay in care can be dangerous because when the bilirubin level rises too high (typically above 250 or 300), it can cause damage to the brain, resulting in developmental delays, and hearing and vision loss.