Should I Breastfeed My Jaundiced Baby?

Breastfeeding and jaundice are compatible. It is normal for newborns experience jaundice to some degree. It is perfectly safe to breastfeed your jaundiced baby. Some breastfeeding literature suggests that breastfeeding may lengthen the duration of jaundice. This fact does not contradict the compatibility of breastfeeding and jaundice. Let me give you some background on jaundice, different types of jaundice and I will follow up with treatments of jaundice in the breastfed baby.

What is Jaundice?
Jaundiced babies appear tinted yellow or orange due to their body’s excess of bilirubin. Bilirubin is produced when a human body breaks down extra red blood cells. Bilirubin is cleared by the liver and removed from the body through the intestines. Infants can experience an excess of bilirubin for several reasons:

  • The liver is still developing and unable to clear adequate bilirubin from the blood
  • Newborns have more turnover of red blood cells thus they make more bilirubin
  • Bilirubin is reabsorbed from the intestines because of slow intestinal transit times (constipation)

Common Types of Jaundice

  • Physiological (Normal) Jaundice – Appears within the first week gone within 14 days.
  • Jaundice of Prematurity – Due to immaturity of liver and elimination system.
  • Breastfeeding Jaundice – Caused by baby not getting enough breast milk leading to decreased number of bowel movements.
  • Breast Milk Jaundice – Less than 2% of all jaundice cases and typically hereditary. The exact cause is unknown. It is thought to be caused by substances produced in breast milk that prevent the breakdown of bilirubin. This type of jaundice does not contradict breastfeeding. If your child contracts this kind of jaundice there is nothing wrong with your breast milk. You can expect your child’s bilirubin levels to approach normal in 3-12 weeks.

Treatment of Jaundice in the Breastfed Baby
If your baby is jaundiced then breastfeeding will actually help relieve the jaundice. Bilirubin leaves the body during your child’s bowel movement. Increasing the frequency of nursing will help your child eliminate the excess bilirubin as quickly as possible. It is recommended that breastfeeding mothers with jaundiced babies breastfeed 8-12 times per day. You will find that your baby is often sleepy. You may need to wake your baby to breastfeed.

To help rule out breastfeeding jaundice. Consult a lactation consultant to make sure that you have a proper breastfeeding latch.

Phototherapy or treatment with a special light may be recommended for babies with high levels of bilirubin in their blood. in the past phototherapy was performed in the hospital. More and more phototherapy is allowed to be preformed at home with the use of fiber optic blankets.

If your infants bilirubin levels exceed 20 milligrams your doctor may advise you feed your baby with formula for 24 hours. During this time, pump and dump your breast milk to keep your breast milk production strong for when you resume breastfeeding.

Consult Your Doctor: If you have a premature baby or baby with other health problems. If the jaundice that lasts longer than fourteen days or occurs after the first week. These can be a signs of other more serious medical conditions.

Read More About Common Concerns Breastfeeding:
Warning Signs While Breastfeeding
How Can I Tell My Baby Has Properly Latched?
Is My Baby Getting Enough Breast Milk?
What Should A Newborn’s Diapers Look Like?

Read More About Expressing Breast Milk:
Pumping and Expressing Breast Milk
Steps when Using a Breast Pump
Breast Milk Expression Tips
Types of Breast Pumps
Increasing Breast Milk Supply
Common Misconceptions about Breast Milk Supply
Three Things Everyone Thinks Dramatically Increases Milk Supply


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