Breastmilk jaundice – who’d a thunk it?

If you’re a proponent of breastfeeding, you probably know all the wonderful benefits it can bring your baby. But did you know that breastfeeding can contribute to jaundice in newborn babies?

It’s the first I heard of this, too. My baby was born 6 weeks premature. He had jaundice, as most premature babies do. He kicked it with a day under the bililights, but then it started to come back a bit.

His pediatrician warned me I may have to feed him formula for 48 hours instead of breastfeeding, because there’s also a type of jaundice brought on by breastfeeding. What?!

Two types of jaundice in newborn babies

Physiologic jaundice is the normal type of jaundice your baby can get simply by having an immature liver, as most babies born before 37 weeks do (and many born at full term, as well – up to 60% of all babies nowadays are diagnosed with jaundice). Babies with physiologic jaundice will start to show yellowing of the skin by the 2nd or 3rd day after birth, and it peaks on the 3rd or 4th day. Pediatricians normally keep a keen eye out for this and will treat the jaundice if the bilirubin levels rise above a certain level.

But there’s another type of jaundice commonly called breastmilk jaundice. Nobody knows how breastfeeding interferes with the breakdown of bilirubin in exclusively breastfed babies, but it usually comes about when jaundice makes an extended stay, as long as up to 6 weeks.

If your baby is breastfeeding exclusively but not getting enough to eat, it may cause jaundice to intensify, since the bilirubin is not being eliminated through enough wet diapers. But this is not breastmilk jaundice.

Breastmilk jaundice occurs even though the baby is seemingly functioning well – eating enough and producing enough wet and dirty diapers. The baby might have had exaggerated physiologic jaundice in the early days, but breastmilk jaundice appears to bring it back. Breastmilk jaundice may peak at 10-21 days.

Breastmilk jaundice is normally considered harmless, unless the baby’s bilirubin levels get too high. Your pediatrician will tell you to keep an eye on your baby’s coloring and to let them know if the yellow or orangish color grows more intense.

A bit of indirect sun exposure at home may be all that’s needed to help your baby’s liver break down the bilirubin in his or her skin. I’ve seen it disappear after just letting my little guy nap on my bed near the window, with only his face exposed to the soft light coming in the window late afternoons.

Still, I’m keeping a keen eye on his coloring. At some night feedings, I start to fret that he’s turning orange, though it turns out it’s just the low light. I tell you, having a newborn can be nerve wracking, especially with getting breastfeeding going—and then to learn breastfeeding can actually contribute to a negative condition!

Tell me, did your baby have jaundice? What was your experience like?

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Comments (1)

  1. Jessica B.

    Wow! I sure didn’t know that breastfeeding could bring out jaundice. My little guy didn’t have it, but as a first time mom I was on the lookout. Many of my friends have had experiences with this and it was on my mind after delivery. I’m sure everything will turn out fine for your little one.

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