Is Jaundice a Risk for Breastfeeding?

Jaundice is an important condition to address. Is it a risk for being able to breastfeed? In a word, no. In fact, breastfeeding, or giving breast milk, is very helpful with jaundice.

A main concern is that the newborn gets enough (milk/food) in so that enough comes out. Babies eliminate the bilirubin in their system through bowel movements.

Thus, the recommendation to breastfeed (or give breast milk) at least eight times in twenty-four hours. The problem is babies who are jaundiced tend to be sleepier. Preterm babies (who often have jaundice) may be less vigorous at feeding. This makes it difficult to be sure the baby is getting enough food. For this reason, a doctor may suggest giving the baby formula.

There is nothing special about the formula itself. A bottle (or cup or syringe) of formula is a way to get food into the baby’s belly. In fact, you can use mother’s milk in a bottle, cup or syringe. Feeding the baby breast milk will have many benefits.

  1. Breast milk is laxative. That is exactly what your baby needs to clear the bilirubin out of the system.
  2. Breast milk is easier to digest than cow or soy protein formula. The proteins in cow’s milk are bigger and harder to break down. Thus…
  3. The baby’s body absorbs more of the nutrients of breast milk. And the colostrum, milk in the first days, is especially high in specific immunoglobulins that a newborn needs. Furthermore, breast milk ‘coats’ the lining of your baby’s gut with beneficial growth and immune factors and builds a healthy microbiome.

Helping the mother to provide breast milk is an excellent strategy. Help means continued support with breastfeeding and, very likely, strategies for pumping her own milk. Boosting her supply will be important. In addition, she can connect with Milk Banks in order to receive  Donor Human Milk. Even in the Special Care or Neonatal Intensive Care Units, your infant can get breast milk.

Sometimes newborns also need phototherapy with ‘bili-lights’. (This stimulates the body’s ability to break down the bilirubin.) They can still breastfeed even when undergoing phototherapy. If your infant is born preterm, there will likely be other health concerns. I hope it encourages you to know that providing breast milk and holding your baby skin to skin are two things you, as a parent, can do for your baby.

Regular, frequent feeding (or expressing) means Eight times in 24 hours. If your baby feeds more often or on a less regular schedule,  that is fine. In a few days, you will notice your baby is less yellowy in the white of the eyes and skin. Your baby will be more alert. Breastfeeding becomes easier when your baby is more awake and ready.

Breast milk helps in many more ways than just getting the baby to eat and poop more. You can provide this valuable resource for your baby by breastfeeding, expressing and feeding your breast milk and/or using Donor Human Breast Milk.

Do pay attention to jaundice in your baby. And do get help with building your own supply, or getting donor human breast milk for your baby. This will help you begin and continue to provide breast milk to your baby.

tea cup with Maman written on it for collecting milk

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