Carotenemia in Babies

Many parents are shocked to discover their babies suddenly have an orangey tint to their skin, especially after starting solids. While the thought of your baby’s skin changing colors seems extreme, it is probably a condition called carotenemia that occurs when your baby consumes excessive carotene. Fortunately carotenemia in babies is not dangerous. Here’s what you need to know about carotenemia in babies:

Close-up image of a baby being fed

Your baby is exploring the many amazing flavors in his new diet that now includes solid foods. Fruits and vegetables are an excellent place to start solids and the more nutrient-rich the better. Many babies enjoy brightly colored foods not only for their dynamic taste, but also their beautiful hues.

Many fruits and vegetables contain the natural plant pigment carotene. There are different types of carotene, the most popular one being beta-carotene, which helps the body synthesize essential Vitamin A. When babies eat too much carotene – either in their own diet of solids or through their mother’s breast milk – they can develop carotenemia. This simply means that your baby’s blood carotene levels are elevated and may result in orangey discoloration to skin.

Carotenemia is not dangerous for babies, although it can be alarming for many parents. It usually appears near sweat glands such as on the nose, face, soles of the feet or palms of the hands. It can also present in the white part of the eyeball. Changes are usually more apparent in babies with fair skin.

Foods that contain carotene include fruits and vegetables of the orange and yellow variety like carrots, squash, pumpkin, egg yolks, and sweet potatoes. Other foods such as beans, spinach and kale also contain carotene. The darker or brighter the color, the more carotene the food has.  Absorption of the pigment is higher in cooked or pureed foods rich in carotene, which is one reason why carotenemia in babies is more common than in others.

Babies and toddlers may also go through phases of enjoying certain foods. Parents who want to please their little ones and are excited that they are enjoying healthy foods may serve a favorite carotene-rich food more often. This frequency can contribute to carotenemia.  A varied diet is important for health and to avoid carotenemia. Even breastfeeding mothers should ensure a diverse diet to avoid over-exposure to carotene.

The good news is that carotenemia is not harmful to your baby and will go away over time, especially as you diversify your baby’s diet. It does not lead to Vitamin A poisoning, which is associated with supplemental use of Vitamin A. There are, however, other medical conditions that could change your baby’s skin color so check with your pediatrician if you are concerned that your baby’s discoloration is anything other than carotenemia.

If you are sure your baby has carotenemia, embrace your orangey baby and know that he’s going to be just fine.

Sources: Wholesome Baby Food and LaLecheLeague


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