Understanding Jaundice in Newborns and Its Connection to Breastfeeding

Understanding Jaundice in Newborns and Its Connection to Breastfeeding

The birth of a baby is a joyous occasion, but it can also bring about concerns and challenges for new parents. One common concern that arises in the early days of a baby's life is jaundice, a condition characterized by yellowing of the skin and eyes. In this blog, we'll explore what jaundice is, its connection to breastfeeding, and how parents can manage it effectively.

What Is Jaundice?

Jaundice is a common condition in newborns that occurs when there's an excess of bilirubin in the baby's blood. Bilirubin is a yellow pigment produced when the body breaks down old red blood cells. In most cases, jaundice is harmless and resolves on its own as the baby's liver matures and becomes more efficient at processing bilirubin.

The Connection Between Jaundice and Breastfeeding:

Jaundice and breastfeeding are often closely linked, and it's important for parents to understand this connection:

  1. Breast Milk Jaundice: Some babies develop a condition known as breast milk jaundice. This occurs when substances in breast milk temporarily interfere with the baby's ability to eliminate bilirubin. Breast milk jaundice typically appears after the first few days of life and can persist for several weeks.

  2. Early Feeding Patterns: Newborns may have difficulty with breastfeeding in the first few days of life. Irregular feeding patterns can lead to inadequate intake of colostrum, the early milk produced by the mother. As a result, the baby may have fewer bowel movements, leading to an accumulation of bilirubin.

Managing Jaundice in Breastfed Babies:

If your newborn develops jaundice, here are some strategies to manage it while continuing to breastfeed:

  1. Frequent Feedings: Ensure your baby is breastfeeding frequently, at least 8-12 times a day. Frequent nursing helps increase colostrum intake, promoting bowel movements and bilirubin elimination.

  2. Monitor Output: Keep an eye on your baby's wet and dirty diapers. You should see an increase in both as your baby starts breastfeeding effectively.

  3. Ensure a Good Latch: Proper latching is crucial for effective breastfeeding. Seek help from a lactation consultant if needed to ensure your baby is latching correctly.

  4. Breast Compressions: During nursing sessions, use breast compressions to encourage your baby to take more milk. This can be particularly helpful if your baby seems sleepy at the breast.

  5. Phototherapy: In severe cases of jaundice, your healthcare provider may recommend phototherapy. This involves exposing your baby's skin to special lights that help break down excess bilirubin.

  6. Consult a Healthcare Professional: As always if you suspect your newborn has  jaundice, consult your pediatrician or healthcare provider. They can assess your baby's condition and provide guidance on further steps.

One of the common issues we see with jaundice is that babies are often extra sleepy and have a difficult time staying awake at the breast. If you find this is happening with your baby, it may be beneficial to offer them a bottle of expressed breastmilk as most babies are able to take a bottle easily as a newborn. Of course, the parent should pump in the place of a feeding to encourage your milk supply to initiate and continue increasing the volume. 

Jaundice in newborns is a common and usually harmless condition. While it can be concerning for parents, it's important to remember that with proper management and support, most cases of jaundice, including breast milk jaundice, resolve without any long-term effects. Breastfeeding is generally recommended and can continue, with the necessary adjustments, as it offers numerous benefits for both the baby and the mother. Regular communication with your healthcare provider and a lactation consultant, can help you navigate this temporary challenge and ensure your baby's well-being.

We're always happy to help you navigate jaundice in our Columbia, MD office or around the world, virtually! 

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