Bringing home Baby is one of the most joyful yet daunting times in one’s life. The idea that you are now actually in charge of a human life can be overwhelming, but if you just remember the colors in the rainbow, you can be well on your way to spotting any serious health problems. Before my families are discharged from the hospital after the birth of a child, I like to review this quick and effective tool.
Red: If you notice any blood in Baby’s diaper, this warrants a trip to the pediatrician’s office. Blood in the diaper can be caused by any number of things, ranging from harmless to alarming. Blood swallowed during the labor-and-delivery process, an allergy to milk proteins or more serious conditions such as inflammation or infection of the gastrointestinal tract could be the reason.
Orange: Some parents will notice orange crystals in their baby’s diapers. These are calcium oxalate crystals and are not a cause for alarm. They should resolve during the first week of life.
Yellow: Jaundice is a very common problem seen in infancy. It is a disorder of bilirubin, a breakdown product of red blood cells which, if not excreted sufficiently in the first few days of life, can cause a yellow hue to the skin. If not addressed, this bilirubin can build up in the body and cause damage to the brain. If you believe that Baby’s skin or eyes are becoming yellow, return to you pediatrician to have the baby’s bilirubin levels checked.
Green: All babies will spit up sometimes, and this is normal. The junction of the stomach and the esophagus is not tightly developed in newborns, which allows for milk to be refluxed into the mouth. However, if Baby starts spitting up green-tinged vomit, this is considered a medical emergency and you should seek medical attention.
Blue: If Baby is turning blue during feeding, this is also a red flag. About one percent of infants worldwide are born with a congenital heart problem, and a portion of those will have cyanotic heart disease. This is a heart defect that keeps a baby’s blood from being properly oxygenated. Before going home from the hospital, all babies should be screened for heart disease with a pulse oximetry test. However, if you are home and noticing Baby turning blue, seek medical attention.
White: If a baby’s stool is white or “clay-like” in color, this can signify a problem with Baby’s liver. A healthy infant’s stool will start out thick and black in color and is called meconium. It will then transition to a green color, and ultimately will be a yellow similar to mustard. If you notice pale poops, this should prompt a trip to your pediatrician.
Remember this quick mnemonic and you are ready. You are prepared You’ve got this.
Stephanie Dekom, MD is a board-certified pediatrician practicing in L.A. She is a fellow at Los Angeles County & University of Southern California medical center and Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, when she is subspecializing in neonatal-perinatal medicine.