Carotenemia

MY BREASTFED TODDLER’S SKIN HAS TURNED ORANGE / YELLOW! IS IT MY MILK?

Most likely, your toddler is experiencing carotenemia, a condition most often found in babies and toddlers, where skin, especially parts that tend to sweat a lot, becomes tinged with orange. It is most visible in babies and toddlers with light complexions. The condition is caused by ingesting a large amount of carotene, a nutrient most often found in human milk, carrots, squash, sweet potato, pumpkin, spinach, beans, egg yolks, corn and yams. Note that most of the foods listed fall into the “yellow vegetable” category. Cooking, mashing, or pureeing foods increases absorption of carotene (Leung, Alexander. Carotenemia. Advances in Pediatrics. 34: 223-248. 1987). Human milk is also full of carotene, and can even become yellowish or orange if a mother eats a diet high in the foods listed above.

The good news is that carotenemia is nearly always a harmless condition (there are some rare diseases that also cause the condition, so if your child is showing signs of illness, you may wish to consult a health care practitioner). Carotenemia is not associated with Vitamin A poisoning, even though carotene is converted to Vitamin A during the digestive process, because the conversion is slow.

The easiest way to avoid this issue is to follow La Leche League’s standard dietary advice for both mother and child to eat a wide variety of foods in as close to their natural state as possible. Sometimes toddlers go through “phases” of only liking one type of food, such as carrots, which might lead to carotenemia. As long as the toddler is also breastfeeding, which means getting complete nutrition, these phases can be tolerated in moderation. Continuing to offer enticing, yet nutritious alternatives will usually result in moving on to a new favorite taste in a short time. The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding has helpful information on introducing new foods and encouraging healthy eating habits.