Jaundice and Breastfeeding

By Lisa Ketchmark

March 7, 2019

Hi my name is Lisa. I am a proud Mama to 3 inquisitive, energetic, and beautiful children. I am also very proud to be a Registered Nurse and The Mama Coach for Hamilton, Ontario. I thoroughly enjoy educating and supporting families, in an attempt to make parenthood a touch easier.

Jaundice is not uncommon for newborn babies.  So, lets answer some common questions associated with newborns, jaundice and breastfeeding.

What is jaundice?

When a baby is born, they usually have an excess of red blood cells.  As these red blood cells break down, they turn into a substance called bilirubin.  Jaundice is the build-up of bilirubin in a baby’s blood. While in the womb, the mothers’ liver cleanses her babies’ blood of the bilirubin.  Once her baby is born, it takes the newborns liver time to adjust to cleansing the blood on its own. Hence, bilirubin builds up and the baby can become jaundice.

What are indicators that Your Baby is Jaundice?

  • Whites of the eyes are yellow
  • Babies skin turns yellow
  • Baby needs to be woken to feed – very sleepy
  • Baby does not feed well – fussy and weight lost

Can you Prevent Jaundice?

One of the ways that you can help your baby to excrete the bilirubin, preventing it from building up, is through frequent feeds.  Bilirubin is excreted in your babies’ stool. Stools that are green in color, are full of bilirubin. With frequent feeds, especially if you are breastfeeding, your baby should be having bowel movements and excreting the bilirubin.  With breastfeeding, colostrum acts as a laxative. This helps your baby pass meconium (first bowel movement) and then stools full of bilirubin (green in color). It also provides the liver with the much-needed energy it requires to remove the bilirubin from the blood.

How is Jaundice Treated?

The most common type of jaundice is treated with phototherapy from a special type of light.  Do not put your baby in the sun as treatment. Your baby needs special lights, available in the hospital.

Are there Different Types of Jaundice?

Yes, there are.  The most common type of newborn jaundice was just described above.  

If your baby is showing signs of having jaundice, listed above, within the first 24 hours of birth, your baby probably has a different type of jaundice.  This type is caused by a difference between the mother’s blood type and babies blood type. These babies, most often then not, require phototherapy. Frequent feeds, although beneficial, are not enough and more treatment is required.

The least common type, is usually seen after a few weeks or 14 days, and is caused by liver disease.  Your baby may appear jaundice, their stool may appear pale (grey) and the urine is dark (brown). If this is the case, you must seek medical attention.

How do Healthcare Professionals Test for Jaundice?

In the hospital, a small sample of your babies’ blood, usually taken from his or her heel, will be tested for bilirubin levels.  Sometimes a jaundice meter can be used. This is placed on her/his forehead and using a light, it tests the bilirubin levels.

Please remember, if you think your baby might be jaundice please seek medical attention.  The treatment is painless and quite simple however if left untreated, serious side effects could occur.  

 

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