What To Do If Your Breastfeeding Baby Has Jaundice

Physiological or ‘normal’ jaundice is a common newborn condition that can be resolved precisely by breastfeeding effectively – it is mainly because of ineffective feeding that breast babies seem to have more and prolonged jaundice!

This is because lower intake of milk leads to passing fewer stools, and therefore Baby’s body reduces bilirubin excretion – that’s the yellow pigment that makes Baby turn yellow. On the other hand, frequent nursing with a good latch increases Baby’s calorie intake and number of stools in the early days and weeks, facilitating the removal of bilirubin from the system.

Confusion befuddles Moms, midwives… and doctors!

Breastfeeding jaundice(seen in the first five days) should, in fact, be referred to as ‘non-feeding’ jaundice or ‘not enough breast milk’ jaundice. Breast milk jaundice refers to prolonged increased bilirubin levels after Day 5 and is primarily due to unresolved breastfeeding jaundice. Prolonged or late-onset breast milk jaundice occurs in no more than 4% of babies, though it may last for up to 10 weeks. Frequent, successful nursing helps resolve this type of jaundice too.

How risky is it?

Toxic levels of bilirubin are rare and with careful treatment, you can prevent it from occurring. If breastfeeding jaundice is not managed correctly early on, it can also lead to prolonged breast milk jaundice. Babies of diabetic mothers, premature infants, induced babies and those who are stressed from a difficult birth, are at an increased risk of getting jaundice.

What about phototherapy?

Mothers are often separated from their babies if bilirubin levels are so high that they need phototherapy, and may find that they struggle to breastfeed. However, regular breastfeeding is particularly important for these babies, as they may become dehydrated.

It is very rarely necessary for breastfeeding to be interrupted in order to treat jaundice – in fact, early and frequent breastfeeding, with Baby latching properly, will help to prevent prolonged jaundice. Colostrum contains a natural laxative that helps Baby to pass meconium, helping to excrete bilirubin

Sometimes breastfeeding mothers are advised to give babies additional water feeds ‘to flush out the bilirubin’. Research has shown that this doesn’t help because most bilirubin is excreted through the bowel and not the kidneys. What’s more, water feeds often affect breastfeeding negatively and delay the passing of jaundice. However, babies with jaundice are often sleepy, so mothers may need to stimulate Baby in order to feed effectively.