Many babies look yellow in the first week of life. This is due to a build-up of bilirubin in the baby’s blood and tissues. Bilirubin is a yellow pigment, and a normal breakdown product of red blood cells. Red blood cells are constantly being made and broken down, especially in babies.
Bilirubin is broken down by the liver and then eliminated from the body in the urine and stool. Because of the immaturity of a newborn’s liver, bilirubin is sometimes not cleared quickly. The result is bilirubin getting distributed throughout the body, which makes the skin look yellow.
If it’s going to, jaundice usually develops over the first two to five days of life. If too much bilirubin builds up in the body, it can make the baby sick.
Bilirubin levels can be done by placing a sensor on the skin in our office, or by performing a blood test. A blood test will always be done if your baby has had phototherapy. Babies who have a high level according to the skin sensor screening need to have a blood test to confirm the bilirubin level.
If a high blood bilirubin is measured, your baby may need to be placed under special “bili lights” (aka phototherapy), which help bring the level down.
Once resolved, jaundice does not typically recur.
After you go home, if the baby appears to be increasingly yellow, is sleepy, or is doing a poor job eating or stooling, contact our office at (804) 282-4205.