Jaundice is a yellow color that a baby (or any individual) can develop in the color of their skin. It's particularly concerning in the newborn period because a high level of jaundice can cause some brain abnormalities and some movement abnormalities later on. So we are pretty vigilant when looking for jaundice in babies.
Jaundice is caused by red blood cells breaking down. There's an element in the red blood cells called bilirubin that is released when they're broken down. Most of us process that through our livers. Newborns aren't quite ready to process all of that, so the bilirubin sits in the skin and causes their skin to be yellow, their eyes are yellow. The most important thing is to get babies eating, because bilirubin is excreted in the stool. So if they're eating well and having lots of poopy diapers, they'll get rid of the bilirubin. Occasionally, if it's too high, we have to put them under lights because ultraviolet (UV) light breaks down the bilirubin so kids can excrete it more easily.
More Answers from Julie Ann Gustin, MD