More than half of newborns get jaundice during their first week. Jaundice is not a disease, it is a common condition that is usually harmless and goes away quickly.

What is Jaundice?

Jaundice is a condition when your skin and eyes look yellow. This yellow color is first seen in the face then moves down to the chest and belly. As the levels get higher, it may spread to the arms and legs. Note: Jaundice may be hard to see if your baby has darker skin.

Is Jaundice common?

Jaundice occurs in 50-75% of full-term babies and 3 in 4 premature baby’s. Your healthcare provider will check your baby’s skin and eyes to see if they have jaundice. If your baby has jaundice, their blood levels may be checked to see what their bilirubin level is. If their bilirubin levels are high, treatment for jaundice may be recommended.

Why does my baby have Jaundice?

Jaundice occurs when there is extra bilirubin in the blood. We all have bilirubin in our blood from the breakdown of old red blood cells. During pregnancy, your baby makes extra red blood cells to support their oxygen needs. After birth, the extra red blood cells break down and release bilirubin into the blood. The liver then filters the extra bilirubin out of the blood. This extra bilirubin leaves your baby’s body through meconium or the baby’s stools.

Is Jaundice harmful for my baby?

If your baby’s blood levels are high, jaundice can be harmful. Very high levels left untreated can cause a form of brain damage called kernicterus. If your baby has high levels, it is important to follow your healthcare provider’s recommendations for treatment to lower your baby’s bilirubin levels.

Is there anything I can do to prevent Jaundice?

Yes. The more your baby breastfeeds, the more she takes in and the more she will excrete (through their stools). This will then help get rid of the extra bilirubin. So, breastfeed soon after birth and 8-10 times each 24-hour period.

If my baby has Jaundice, what should I expect?

Bilirubin levels usually:

  • Go no higher than about 12 to 15mg/dL
  • Peak between Day 3 and 5 and then go down (see table below for more information)

Types & Causes of Jaundice in newborns

Does Jaundice affect breastfeeding?

Some babies get extra sleepy and breastfeed poorly if they have jaundice. It is important to continue to attempt breastfeeding your baby, but if your baby is not breastfeeding well, contact a lactation consultant who can help. Your baby may need to finger or cup feed or use a supplemental nursing system if they are too sleepy to latch and breastfeed well. If your baby needs to use one of these alternative feeding methods, you will need to pump your breasts after. Pumping will help your body establish and maintain the milk supply your baby needs once they are able to exclusively breastfeed without using these devices.

 

This is general information and does not replace the advice of your healthcare provider. If you have a problem you cannot solve quickly, seek help right away. Every baby is diff erent, if in doubt, contact your physician or other healthcare provider.

 

References

Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine. ABM clinical protocol #22: Guidelines for management of jaundice in the breastfeeding infant equal to or greater than 35 weeks’ gestation. Breastfeed Med. 2010;5(2):87-93

American Academy of Pediatrics. AAP clinical practice guideline on the management of hyperbilirubinemia. Pediatrics. 2004;114(1):297-316.

Mohrbacher N. Breastfeeding Answers Made Simple: A Guide for Helping Mothers. Amarillo, TX: Hale Publishing, LP; 2010.

Spangler A. Breastfeeding: A Parent’s Guide. 9th ed. Cincinnati, OH: Specialty Lithographing Co; 2010.