Babies who need treatment for high levels of bilirubin have a yellowish cast to their skin and eyes, reports MedlinePlus. The face is often affected first, and then the coloring spreads down the body until it reaches the soles of the feet. These babies are often tired with poor appetites.
The body makes bilirubin as the liver deals with old red blood cells, WebMD states. Bilirubin typically leaves the body through feces. When a fetus is developing, the placenta handles fetal bilirubin, says MedlinePlus. After birth, the baby's liver takes over, but the process may not be efficient immediately.
Yellowing of the skin, or jaundice, is common in newborns, according to MedlinePlus. This condition is not harmful and usually disappears within two weeks. Some breastfed babies also have elevated bilirubin levels for about a month in reaction to substances in the breast milk; however, blood problems, infections, lack of enzymes, medications, diseases or insufficient oxygen occasionally cause more severe jaundice.
Most babies with jaundice do not need treatment, MedlinePlus advises; however, if tests reveal that bilirubin levels are high or rising quickly, doctors use phototherapy, which exposes the infant to special lights that break down bilirubin in skin. Hydration is important to encourage the elimination of bilirubin through stools, therefore, these babies receive frequent feedings. In rare cases, intravenous hydration is needed.