Jaundice in Newborns: What You Need to Know

By: Heather Keniston

 Photo by  Tim Bish  on  Unsplash

Photo by Tim Bish on Unsplash

One thing that is more common than you may think in newborns 2-3 days old is breastfeeding jaundice, occurring in approximately 60% of all babies. Jaundice causes a baby’s skin or the whites of their eyes to appear yellow. It is something to be aware of and know the effective treatment methods so no future complications occur.

What is it?

Naturally, there are high amounts of red blood cells at birth. Bilirubin, a normal substance that occurs in the bloodstream, can build up and the liver is not able to break the substance down as fast as it builds up. The buildup of bilirubin is supposed to be removed from the body by natural digestion and bowl movements.

Instead, because the baby’s liver is so small and not fully developed, it can’t get rid of the bilirubin as easily. The substance keeps building up until the skin and eyes begin to yellow.

In more basic terms, this can cause a newborn to become dehydrated or intake a fewer number of calories.

For breastfeeding jaundice, the problem’s origin is usually in the form of insufficient milk intake which is where the dehydration comes in.

There can also be jaundice in the breast milk which is caused by the mother’s milk to have substances that cause the baby to not be able to handle the bilirubin. This form is found in about 1 in 200 babies making it not as common as breastfeeding jaundice.

Jaundice in breast milk does not usually cause any problems. Feeding your baby is okay to continue because it will eventually go away on its own.

How do you know if your baby has breastfeeding or breast milk jaundice?

On top of the yellow discoloration, your baby can experience high-pitched crying, fatigue, poor weight gain, and listlessness.

Treatment? 

Because this is a temporary thing, treatment is mostly to keep breast-feeding your baby the only difference is you may need to feed more frequently or combine breast milk and formula. Your doctor will guide you on the best decision. The goal is to get your baby to secrete the bilirubin through digestion. In some cases, jaundice goes away with time, but make sure to consult your doctor for the proper treatment.

Overall, treatment will depend on the baby’s levels of bilirubin in the blood and when your baby was born as well as their age. One thing to note is newborns will generally have a higher level, the issue arises when they are having trouble getting rid of the excess.

One method that has also been proven effective is having your newborn placed under a special light or near sunlight coming through a window. The baby must be undressed for the method to be fully effective but it has been shown to help lower the bilirubin levels.

Prevention?

With the breast milk jaundice, there may be a genetic link which is not preventable. With the breastfeeding jaundice, you just need to make sure your baby is getting enough milk.

Feeding is tricky to learn in the beginning of you and your baby’s relationship, but usually a good indicator of hunger is smacking of the lips, alertness, sucking on the hands, and crying. You should then proceed to feed between 10 and 12 times each day. The more they eat, the more they’ll digest and hopefully get the jaundice out of their system.

Monitor the latch as well for optimal milk intake.

When will it go away?

Breastfed babies experiencing jaundice will usually begin to clear up after a month and in some cases, just over a month. Jaundice in formula-fed babies tends to let up by 2 weeks but if it goes into that third week, it’s advisable to check with your doctor to make sure the plan of treatment is effective.

If you find that your baby is experiencing jaundice, try journaling your feelings. You’re adjusting to a whole new way of life and you’re tired, stressed, and unsure of how to be a mum in some cases. Take your time in processing everything by journaling. Also, make sure you’re taking care of yourself and eating and drinking effectively so you can provide your new little one with the necessary breast milk nutrients. If you’re a formula feeding mum, make sure you are keeping yourself healthy and taking care of yourself to keep up with your energetic baby.

All in all, if breastfeeding is your decision, it’s good to start right away so your baby will begin to adjust and learn the proper latch. It is also good to know what your baby could be experiencing. Otherwise, keep feeding your little one and rocking as a mum!