I am looking forward to starting up my baby basics series again. There are several topics I want to discuss before my baby (She is already 4 months old!) isn’t a baby anymore.
Today I wanted to talk about jaundice. All of my five (breastfed) newborns have had jaundice. My girls had it for over a month which was quite a bit longer than the boys.
Below is a picture of Janna at one week old. Do you notice how yellow her skin was? The whites of her eyes were also yellow, especially in the corners. This was due to the fact she had jaundice.
What causes Jaundice?
Babies are born with a large amount of red blood cells which helped them get oxygen from their mother’s blood while in the womb. Once a baby is born it no longer needs all of those red blood cells.
As a baby’s body is trying to get rid of the excess red blood cells, it produces bilirubin. Bilirubin is a yellow pigment that can get deposited in a baby’s skin and eyeballs when the liver can’t break it down fast enough, thus causing jaundice.
Does breastfeeding cause jaundice?
While it often seems that breastfed babies have a higher tendency towards being jaundiced, there don’t seem to be any hard facts that breastfeeding indeed causes jaundice.
There are two types of jaundice that relate to breastfeeding: Breast milk jaundice and breastfeeding jaundice.
Breastfeeding jaundice occurs when baby is not getting enough breastmilk. Breast milk jaundice is a term for jaundice that lasts past the normal time for physiological jaundice. It is believed that there is a substance in the mother’s milk that causes bilirubin not to be broken down fast enough.
Physiological jaundice is the most common form of jaundice in newborns and doesn’t cause a problem for most babies. It usually shows up on baby’s 2nd or 3rd day of life. While most health care professionals say it should clear by 2 weeks, my girls have had it last over a month with no complications.
With physiological jaundice, the bilirubin level usually stays below 20 milligrams. The level can be checked with a special probe or with a blood test. If the level rises much above 20 milligrams there are some serious complications that can occur if the jaundice is left untreated.
How can Jaundice be treated?
Frequent Breastfeeding: It is very important to feed all breastfed babies on demand, especially those with jaundice. Breastmilk is more easily digested than formula so breastfed babies will need to nurse A LOT.
The more baby nurses, the more poopy diapers they should have. That should mean that their body is processing the bilirubin.
Even with breastfeeding or breast milk jaundice unrestricted, on-demand breastfeeding is a much better approach to treating jaundice than interfering with the breastfeeding relationship in order to “cure” jaundice.
Some doctors may try to tell a mother that she needs to stop nursing in order to get rid of her baby’s jaundice. This is usually not necessary and can cause problems for the baby’s ability to breastfeed and for the mother’s milk supply. If a mother does follow that advice and stop nursing, she should definitely pump to keep up her milk supply.
My babies have all continued nursing, had plenty of wet and poopy diapers, and gained weight above the curve in spite of their jaundice.
Light Therapy: Indirect sunlight and florescent lighting are the ways my babies received light therapy. (See picture above.)
I put my babies in a bouncy seat or a bassinet (on the floor) in a sunny window, or in my laundry room under the florescent light when it was cloudy, while they napped.
Some doctors prescribe biliblankets which should speed up the process. I have no experience with biliblankets, so if you have used one for your baby I would love to hear from you.
There are some serious side effects when a baby has very high bilirubin levels. This is unusual, but definitely means a baby with jaundice should be checked out by a health care professional.
Have any of your children had jaundice? How long did it take your baby to get over it and what treatments did you use?
I am happy to say that my babies had no ill effects from having jaundice. Of course, I wish they didn’t have to have it at all, but we have managed just fine with frequent breastfeeding and good old fashioned sunlight.
*Disclaimer: I am not a health care professional. I am just a mom who has had experience with jaundice. The information I have provided is not meant to replace that of your baby’s health care provider.
- A Brand New Baby
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- Newborn Skin Conditions
- Tummy Time
- Clothing a Newborn
- When You Suspect a Problem
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- Knowing Your Baby
- Trimming Nails & Suctioning Noses
- Baby Learning