Breast milk jaundice can start out very scary for new parents. No mother wants to see signs of illness in her newborn, but jaundice can be especially considering for many moms.
When a baby’s skin and eyes start to take on a yellowish sheen, many new mothers race to the emergency room or call their pediatrician in a hurry. In most cases, the problem is a condition known as jaundice, and it isn’t an emergency situation. It usually clears up within three months, but it’s still best to see your doctor for a checkup as soon as you see your baby turning a little yellow.
It is important to understand what jaundice is and why it impacts some newborn babies but not others. This information will allow you to stay calm and act with confidence when a baby you love develops this condition.
What Causes Breast Milk Jaundice?
As red blood cells are broken down in the human body, a yellow pigment known as bilirubin is released into the liver. The liver then passes it into the intestinal tract, where it is eliminated from the body. When this pigment isn’t properly removed, it builds up in the blood and sometimes even internal tissue. This gives the blood and tissues a yellow coloring which is seen through the skin.
What Causes Jaundice in Babies?
Babies with underdeveloped livers often develop this condition regardless of the method of feeding. Their livers just aren’t ready to start accepting bilirubin and processing it into the intestinal tract, so it stays in the blood until the liver is fully developed.
In the case of breast milk jaundice, it’s possible that a substance released through the breast milk is encouraging the blood to reabsorb the bilirubin from the digestive tract. Another option is breastfeeding failure jaundice, which happens when the baby becomes dehydrated and stops urinating properly due to struggles with breastfeeding. The lack of regular urination keeps the bilirubin in the body rather than allowing it to eliminate naturally.
Some professionals also believe that something found in breast milk may interfere with the liver’s ability to break down bilirubin due to inefficiency of a certain protein. The bilirubin can’t proceed into the intestinal tract for elimination, so it remains within the body. Still other professionals believe that jaundice may simply be hereditary in some cases.
In many cases, parents never learn the exact cause of their baby’s jaundice. If your baby is otherwise healthy and is eating properly with no concerns about severe dehydration, you will likely treat your little one at home and continue breastfeeding until the condition clears up naturally.
Does Your Baby Have Breast Milk Jaundice?
If your baby is starting to show signs of yellowing, look for symptoms of dehydration. Fewer than six wet diapers per day is a sign of mild dehydration, and it is more severe if they’re only wetting a couple diapers a day. You may also notice that your baby doesn’t shed as many tears as expected when they cry or that they have dry lips or a dry mouth. Dehydration is dangerous for children of all ages, so it’s important to seek medical care immediately if you believe that your baby is dehydrated, with or without jaundice.
If you don’t believe that your baby is dehydrated and he or she is eating properly with no additional signs of illness, then call your pediatrician or family doctor for an appointment. They will know if there are other medical concerns that may justify immediate attention. In most cases, you will schedule an appointment for a checkup, and the doctor will run blood tests to determine the amount of bilirubin in your baby’s blood.
Your doctor will also ask questions about your baby’s feeding and urination habits to determine the cause of the jaundice. If the yellowing set in a week or two after your baby’s birth but your baby is otherwise latching and eating without problems and is not dehydrated, then you may get a diagnosis of breast milk jaundice. Don’t confuse this with breastfeeding jaundice, which is yellowing associated with problematic feeding and potentially dehydration.
Treating Breast Milk Jaundice
Your doctor should monitor your baby’s bilirubin levels over time until the condition clears up. As long as those levels are elevated but within a non-threatening range, your doctor will likely ask you to treat your baby with natural measures from home.
In most cases, you will simply breastfeed your baby more often throughout the day and night. This should increase the baby’s wet diapers, hopefully eliminating bilirubin at a faster rate. This is usually the only treatment needed for a healthy baby without feeding issues.
Your doctor may also ask you to work with a lactation consultant or another breastfeeding professional if they suspect feeding issues. This will help your baby learn to latch properly and feed more aggressively. This is often necessary with preemies, but any baby can have trouble learning how to breastfeed properly.
Take Care of Your Baby’s Mother
Some mothers feel guilt or other negative emotions when their newborns suffer from breast milk jaundice. You may feel like the milk that you produce for your baby is somehow inadequate, but that isn’t normally the case. You may worry that your breast milk is harming your newborn, but that isn’t normally the case, either. The natural solution to jaundice is often more of your breast milk, not less!
Your breast milk is an amazing substance that is arming your baby with powerful nutrients that will ensure he or she thrives in the early years of life. Substances in your milk may also boost your baby’s immune system for years to come. As long as you’re following doctor’s orders on the treatment of the jaundice, your baby continues to feed well, and there are no signs of dehydration, your job is to simply care for your body so that you’re able to continue caring for your newborn.
Enjoy the early days of motherhood, jaundice and all. These are the things that you will write about in the baby book and look back with fond smiles one day in the future.
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