What is Jaundice?
Jaundice is a yellowing of the skin and possibly also a yellowing of the whites of the eyes. It is caused by a orangish-yellow pigment called bilirubin that results when red blood cells are broken down. Newborns often have more red blood cells than adults and their immature livers can’t breakdown the bilirubin fast enough, so the yellowish pigment begins changing the skin, usually on the face first then spreading down the chest and to the rest of the body.
Jaundice and Breastfeeding
Jaundice is slightly more common in breastfeeding babies than formula-fed ones and the length of jaundice can be increased because of breastfeeding (see breast milk jaundice, below) however the vast majority of Jaundice cases are not harmful to the baby in any way. An adult getting a slight tan is usually more harmful to the adult than jaundice is to the breastfeeding baby.
Types of Jaundice in Breastfeeding Babies
There are three types of Jaundice that appear in breastfeeding babies. They are:
- Physiologic Jaundice – Affects 60 out of 100 newborns
- Breast Milk Jaundice – Affects 1 out of 100 newborns
- Breastfeeding Jaundice
This type of Jaundice is the most common type of jaundice and affects breastfeeding and formula-fed babies alike. It often appears in the first 2 or 3 days after birth and begins with a yellowing of the face that spreads down the chest and to the rest of the body. It can be treated by increased breastfeeding and light therapy but will often go away on it’s own with little intervention as the baby’s liver becomes efficient at processing the yellowish pigment, bilirubin.
Breast Milk Jaundice
Breast milk jaundice affects only breastfeeding babies and is believed to be caused by a component of the mother’s breast milk that causes the baby’s liver to more slowly process bilirubin.
This type of jaundice usually doesn’t start until 7 days after birth and may continue until 6 weeks after birth. Often an otherwise healthy breastfeeding baby will not need any treatment and breastfeeding should not be interrupted.
Breastfeeding jaundice is caused by a breastfeeding baby not getting enough breast milk. If a mother’s milk is slow to come in or if baby is not getting a proper latch and therefore is not able to remove milk effectively, breastfeeding jaundice can occur. In this type of jaundice the lower levels of breast milk consumption result in fewer pees and poops, which is how baby gets rid of the bilirubin.
Damaged, bleeding nipples and low diaper output are warning signs that your baby may develop breastfeeding jaundice.
Treat All 3 Types of Jaundice with More Breastfeeding
Jaundice (any type, even breast milk jaundice) is not a good reason to stop, reduce or interrupt your breastfeeding! In fact, the opposite it true: don’t slow or stop breastfeeding the jaundice baby, increase breastfeeding!
No matter which type of jaundice your breastfeeding baby has, you can help treat the condition with an increase in breastfeeding sessions! Encourage as many breastfeeding sessions as you and let no more than 2 hours pass between the start of one breastfeeding session and the start of the next. Aim for 12 breastfeeding sessions each 24 day. The increase in breast milk will help flush baby’s system of the extra bilirubin.
If your baby develops jaundice, tell your health care professional who may want to do blood work to determine bilirubin level. In cases of high bilirubin, your baby may need to do phototherapy which involves wrapping the child in a special blanket outfitted with lights that help lower bilirubin levels.
Breastfeeding and Jaundice Final Thoughts
While breastfeeding can be a cause for jaundice, it can also be part of the solution and the benefits of longterm breastfeeding far outweigh the condition of jaundice. As long as your baby is under competent medical care, keep breastfeeding and the jaundice will resolve in time.