Parenting

Jaundice affects many babies, but it doesn't have to impact your breastfeeding relationship.
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Can You Breastfeed A Baby With Jaundice? Experts Weigh In

Even if they’re in the hospital for jaundice treatment, breastfeeding your baby is still an option.

Breastfeeding is a journey, but if you began it with your baby having jaundice, you’re likely to have more questions and possible reservations. Jaundice can be challenging, but jaundice and breastfeeding go together fairly well, especially since frequent stools and urination will help your baby get rid of jaundice.

Jaundice in babies is a condition that occurs when the blood has an excess of bilirubin, a yellow pigment of red blood cells that the liver isn’t mature enough to break down. The elevated levels cause the skin and eyes to turn a yellowish tint, Mayo Clinic noted. Other effects of jaundice can include lethargy, poor feeding, and, if left untreated, jaundice can lead to kernicterus, a serious condition that’s a type of brain damage.

But generally, babies recover from it.

“Up to 50 to 70% of babies experience jaundice, and most of those babies will not require treatment,” says Meghan Hunter, DO, a pediatrician at Phoenix Children’s Hospital. She adds that jaundice is more common in breastfed babies than formula-fed babies.

But if that deters you from wanting to nurse your little one, experts weigh in on if you can breastfeed your baby with jaundice.

Breast milk & jaundice: Is there a need to stop breastfeeding?

“Jaundice is quite common for the infant that is breastfed,” says Ashanti Woods, MD, a Baltimore, Maryland-based pediatrician.

When jaundice occurs before your breast milk comes in, it’s referred to as suboptimal jaundice, or breastfeeding jaundice, according to Hunter. “We sometimes counsel parents to supplement with formula to make sure that the baby is getting enough calories to feed well and clear bilirubin,” but this is not to steer moms from breastfeeding.

If you find it challenging because of your baby having trouble latching or being lethargic, that’s common as well.

“Babies who are moderately to severely jaundiced may experience feeding challenges. Mildly jaundiced babies often still feed well. The accumulation of bilirubin makes babies sleepier, which in turn makes it harder for them to feed well. Severely jaundiced babies have difficulty latching and sucking, and they often fall asleep while feeding,” Hunter says.

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“Breast milk itself is not harmful to babies with jaundice. What is harmful is when babies are not getting enough breast milk, whether that be through poor latch or poor breast milk supply,” Hunter tells Romper.

Typically there is no need for a mother to stop breastfeeding her infant who has jaundice, Woods says. But it’s important during this time that your baby’s bilirubin levels are monitored by a pediatrician to check their progress. If the levels aren’t improving, your pediatrician may suggest changing how they’re fed.

“In rare cases where a baby’s bilirubin measurement is not improving despite being fed adequate volumes of breast milk, a temporary trial of formula may be attempted to see if it improves the child’s jaundice levels,” Woods says.

Does breastfeeding help eliminate jaundice?

“The more a baby is breastfed, specifically the more volume they take in, the more that that baby will eliminate bilirubin, the pigment that causes jaundice, through urination and stooling, which of course will ultimately improve their jaundice,” Woods says.

If you’re breastfeeding, don’t take jaundice as a roadblock. Hunter says you “should be well-supported and encouraged to feed your baby frequently for jaundice to resolve.”

So, unless your pediatrician tells you different, keep nursing your baby. They need all the nourishment you can give them, especially now.

Experts:

Ashanti Woods, MD, pediatrician at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore MD

Meghan Hunter, DO, pediatrician at Phoenix Children’s Hospital in Arizona