Many newborns are born with some yellowing of the skin, also known as jaundice. It’s often most noticeable when the baby is two to four days old, and is usually not a reason to be concerned. Here are some facts about jaundice, and tips for breastfeeding and pumping when you have a baby with jaundice.
What is Jaundice?
Newborn jaundice occurs when a baby has a high level of bilirubin in the blood. When a baby is growing in the mother’s womb, the placenta removes the bilirubin from their body. After birth, it’s the baby’s liver’s turn to start doing this job. In some cases, it takes a little time for the baby’s liver to efficiently remove the bilirubin through the stool.
The yellow coloring in a baby’s face is the result of the extra bilirubin. If your baby has jaundice, your care provider might recommend treatment, otherwise it’s possible that the jaundice will go away on its own within about two weeks. You should never be discouraged from breastfeeding while your baby has jaundice—your milk is always best for your baby.
What are Common Risk Factors for Developing Jaundice?
- The baby experienced bruising during a difficult delivery
- The baby’s blood type is different from mom’s
- Infections in the baby or mom
- Delay in passing the meconium stools
- Not feeding well, resulting in more than 7% weight loss from birth
- The mother had a previous baby that developed jaundice
- The baby was born early (34 – 38 weeks gestation)
- The mother has diabetes or Rh sensitization
Breastfeeding and Phototherapy Treatment
Phototherapy is the most common treatment for jaundice, and involves the baby either being placed under a blue light, on a bed containing a blue light, or wrapped in a special blanket that contains blue light. It’s perfectly safe to remove your baby from phototherapy for 30 minutes at a time to breastfeed.
As we mentioned before, you should never be discouraged from breastfeeding while your baby has jaundice. Sometimes your pediatrician may indicate a medical necessity for you to supplement breastfeeding with expressed breast milk, donor milk or infant formula to assist with excreting the bilirubin through the stools. After breastfeeding, this extra milk can be given to your baby through a syringe, cup or through a tube if he or she is too immature to nurse at your breast or from a bottle. If your baby requires supplementation, you should begin to express your milk (by hand or by using a breast pump) every two to three hours to help build your milk supply. Don’t worry! You can resume exclusive breastfeeding when your supply increases, your baby’s bilirubin level decreases, and your baby begins to gain weight.
Remember, your milk is always best for your baby. Continuing to breastfeed during your baby’s treatment or after treatment is finished will not cause their bilirubin problems to return.
If you have questions about breastfeeding a baby with jaundice, reach out to your healthcare provider or you can send a question to one of our professional Lactation Consultants any time! We’re always here to offer the best quality products, care and support to all of our Medela families!