Most infants (50-70%) develop jaundice in the first weeks of life. If your baby has jaundice, he may have yellow-tinted skin or eyes. The yellow color is the result of too much bilirubin in your baby’s blood; bilirubin is a brownish – yellow color.
Before birth, your baby’s body uses the placenta to remove bilirubin from his blood. During the first days of life, your baby’s liver can be slow to begin working and bilirubin can build up. We all have bilirubin in our bodies, it is a naturally occurring waste product created when our bodies replace red blood cells (the lifespan of a red blood cell is 120 days). Usually, our liver filters out the bilirubin and we excrete it in our stool. If you have ever wondered where our poop gets it is color – look no further than bilirubin!
The best way to shorten the duration of jaundice, or prevent it all together, is to breastfeed your baby early and often. Breastfeeding within the first hour of life helps your baby pass the dark, sticky poop called meconium and takes out bilirubin with it. Frequent breastfeeding helps your baby pass more stool and bilirubin too.
There are 3 common types of jaundice:
1. Physiological jaundice. It is often most noticeable when the baby is 2 to 4 days old. The most common type of jaundice, it does not cause any distress and disappears without treatment by 14 days old.
2. Breastfeeding jaundice. This type often occurs in breastfed babies during the first 7 days of life. If your baby has difficulty breastfeeding or your milk comes in after day 3, your baby may develop breastfeeding jaundice.
3. Breast milk jaundice. Develops after the first 4-7 days of life, persists longer than 14 days and has no other identifiable cause. Doctors are still unsure what causes breast milk jaundice. However, evidence suggests it is related to the interaction between some of the components in breast milk and bilirubin. Breast milk jaundice seems to have a genetic component, as it runs in families.
If you notice a yellow tint to your newborn’s skin or eyes, talk to your baby’s doctor about the need for testing and monitoring her bilirubin level. A very high level of bilirubin can result in a condition known as kernicterus and brain damage.
Compiled from these references:
Bramuzzo, M., Davanzo, R. (2010). Neonatal Jaundice and Breastfeeding Reputation. J Hum Lact,; vol. 26, 4: pp. 362. Retrieved from http://jhl.sagepub.com/content/26/4/362.full.pdf+html
Deshpande, P. (2014). Breastmilk Jaundice. Medscape, retrieved from http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/973629-overview
Kaneshiro, N. (2014). Newborn Jaundice. MedlinePlus. Retrieved from https://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/001559.htm