Bilirubin is made by the body naturally, then processed by the liver and excreted in the bowel movements. Sometimes the body creates bilirubin faster than baby’s liver can process it, causing an excess of bilirubin that turns baby’s skin and eyes yellow.
Jaundice is more common in breastfed babies. It is normally harmless, and resolves on its own but it is important to make sure breastfeeding is adequate. Baby needs to breastfeed 8-12 times a day. Feeding more frequently, or for longer periods of time is almost always helpful as it helps the body pass the bilirubin. Colostrum (the first milk) is a natural laxative that helps the body get rid of the excess bilirubin, so it is important to make sure baby is feeding well. Wake baby for a feeding every 2-3 hours, and feed on demand. Watch for sucking and swallowing. Monitor wet and soiled diapers.
Contact your pediatrician if:
- Baby’s skin is getting more yellow
- Baby’s eyes are more yellow
- Baby is not nursing or taking formula well
- Baby is jaundiced, hard to wake up, fussy and/or not feeding well.
In selected cases, your pediatrician might recommend a formula supplement temporarily.
Occasionally, jaundice lasts longer than two weeks. You can still usually continue breastfeeding, but sometimes your pediatrician may ask you to stop breastfeeding for a day or two. If you must interrupt breastfeeding for any reason, be sure to express your breast milk using a quality electric breast pump so you can keep producing milk and can restart nursing easily. Your nurse, or lactation specialist, can give you guidance in using a breast pump. SMH breastfeeding help line 917-7413.
Jaundice usually resolves itself, or sometimes requires special lights that help the body break down the bilirubin. Depending on your baby’s bilirubin levels, baby can be treated at home, or in the hospital. Sunlight exposure is not recommended, as baby needs to be undressed and can get cold easily or sunburned.