What Is Breast Milk Jaundice?
Jaundice, or yellowing of the skin and eyes, is a very common
condition in newborns. In fact, about 60 percent of
infants get jaundice within several days of birth. It can occur when babies
have a high level of bilirubin in their blood. Bilirubin is a yellow pigment
produced during the breakdown of red blood cells.
Normally, bilirubin passes through the liver, which releases it
into the intestinal tract. In newborns, however, the liver is often
underdeveloped and may not be able to remove bilirubin from the blood. When there’s
too much bilirubin in the blood, it can settle in the skin. This causes the
skin and eyes to appear yellow.
Breast milk jaundice is a type of jaundice associated with
breast-feeding. It typically occurs one week after birth. The condition can
sometimes last up to 12 weeks, but it rarely causes complications in healthy,
The exact cause of breast milk jaundice isn’t known. However, it
may be linked to a substance in the breast milk that prevents certain proteins
in the infant’s liver from breaking down bilirubin. The condition may also run
Breast milk jaundice is rare, affecting less
than 3 percent of infants. When it does occur, it usually doesn’t cause any
problems and eventually goes away on its own. It’s safe to continue
breast-feeding your baby.
It’s important to note that breast milk jaundice isn’t related to
breast-feeding jaundice. Breast-feeding jaundice only develops in newborns that
struggle with breast-feeding and don’t get enough breast milk. Infants with
breast milk jaundice, on the other hand, can properly latch onto the breast and
receive adequate amounts of breast milk.
Any signs of jaundice in your infant should be checked by your
doctor. They can make sure that there isn’t a more serious cause or underlying
problem. Severe, untreated jaundice in newborns can lead to complications,
including permanent brain damage or hearing loss.
What Are the Symptoms of Breast Milk
The symptoms of breast milk jaundice often develop after the
first week of life. These may include:
- yellow discoloration of the skin and the whites
of the eyes
- poor weight gain
- high-pitched crying
What Causes Breast Milk Jaundice?
Infants are born with high levels of red blood cells. When their
body begins to remove the old red blood cells after birth, a yellow pigment
called bilirubin is created. Typically, the yellow discoloration caused by
bilirubin fades on its own as the maturing liver breaks down the pigment. It’s
passed from the body in the urine or stool.
Doctors don’t know why jaundice occurs in infants who adapt well
to breast-feeding. However, it may be caused by substances in breast milk that
block the proteins in the liver responsible for breaking down bilirubin.
Who Is at Risk for Breast Milk Jaundice?
Breast milk jaundice can occur in any breast-fed newborn. Since
doctors don’t know the exact cause of the condition yet, there are few risk
factors associated with it. However, breast milk jaundice may be genetic, so a
family history of jaundice in breast-fed infants might increase your baby’s risk.
How Is Breast Milk Jaundice Diagnosed?
A lactation consultant may observe feedings to make sure that your
baby is latching properly and that your supply of breast milk is sufficient. A
lactation consultant is a breast-feeding specialist trained to teach mothers
how to feed their baby. A diagnosis of breast milk jaundice may be made if the
consultant determines that your infant is latching onto the breast well and getting
enough milk. Your doctor will then use a blood test to confirm the diagnosis.
This test will measure the amount of bilirubin in your baby’s blood. High levels
of bilirubin indicate jaundice.
How Is Breast Milk Jaundice Treated?
It’s safe to continue breast-feeding your baby. Jaundice is a
temporary condition that shouldn’t interfere with the benefits of breast milk.
Mild or moderate jaundice can usually be monitored at home. Your doctor may
tell you to breast-feed your baby more frequently or to give your baby formula
in addition to breast milk. This can help your infant pass the bilirubin in
their stool or urine.
Severe jaundice is often treated with phototherapy, either in the
hospital or at home. During phototherapy, your baby is kept under a special
light for one to two days. The light changes the structure of bilirubin
molecules in a way that allows them to be removed from the body more quickly.
Your baby will wear protective glasses throughout phototherapy to prevent eye
What Is the Long-Term Outlook for Babies
with Breast Milk Jaundice?
Babies with breast milk jaundice usually recover with the right
treatment and careful monitoring. The condition typically goes away after one
or two weeks if the child’s liver becomes more efficient and they continue to
consume adequate amounts of milk. In rare cases, jaundice may persist past the
sixth week of life, even with proper treatment. This can indicate an underlying
medical condition that requires more aggressive treatment.
How Can Breast Milk Jaundice Be Prevented?
Most cases of breast milk jaundice can’t be prevented. You
shouldn’t stop breast-feeding if you’re concerned about your baby getting
breast milk jaundice. You should only stop breast-feeding when your doctor
tells you to do so. Breast milk is critical for keeping your newborn healthy.
It supplies all the necessary nutrients and protects babies against diseases
and infections. The American
Academy of Pediatrics recommends breast-feeding infants eight to 12 times
per day for the first six months of life.