Newborn jaundice: Causes, types and treatment

Newborns can get affected by jaundice. Neonatal jaundice, a sign of elevated bilirubin levels, is common during the first weeks of life, especially among preterm or late preterm newborns. Bilirubin, a product from the normal breakdown of red blood cells, is elevated in newborns for several reasons:

* Newborns have a higher rate of bilirubin production due to the shorter lifespan of red blood cells and higher red blood cell concentration compared to adults.
* Newborns have immature liver function, leading to slower metabolism of bilirubin.
* Newborns may have a delay in passage of meconium, leading to increased reabsorption of bilirubin in the intestines.
* In most newborns, jaundice is termed “physiologic jaundice” and is considered harmless.

newborn jaundice
Newborn jaundice may be more prevalent in preemies. Image Courtesy: Shutterstock

What is the difference between breastfeeding jaundice and breast milk jaundice

Breastfeeding jaundice:

This is also called as a Suboptimal intake jaundice, and most often occurs in the first week of life when breastfeeding is being established. Newborns may not receive optimal milk intake, which leads to elevated bilirubin levels due to increased reabsorption of bilirubin in the intestines. Inadequate milk intake also delays the passage of meconium, which contains large amounts of bilirubin that is then transferred into the infant’s circulation. In most cases, breastfeeding can, and should, continue. More feeds can reduce the risk of jaundice.

Breast milk jaundice:

Breast milk jaundice most often occurs in the second or later weeks of life and can continue for several weeks. While the exact mechanism leading to breast milk jaundice is unknown, it is believed that substances in the mother’s milk inhibit the ability of the infant’s liver to process bilirubin.

breastfeeding jaundice
Jaundice can happen via breastfeeding. Image courtesy: Shutterstock


* You must make sure make sure your baby is getting enough milk.
* Feed about 10 to 12 times each day, starting on the first day. Feed whenever the baby is alert, sucking on the hands, and smacking the lips. This is how babies let you know they are hungry. Identify hunger cues.
* Take help from a lactation consultant to check correct latch and assess milk flow
* Phototherapy is a common treatment for jaundice. Other therapeutic options include temporary supplementation with donor human milk or infant formula, and rarely, temporary interruption of breastfeeding.

Should a mother continue breastfeeding if her child has jaundice?

Supplementation can include mother’s expressed breast milk, pasteurized donor human milk, or infant formula.

Usually, most newborns with jaundice can continue breastfeeding. More frequent breastfeeding can improve the mother’s milk supply and, in turn, improve caloric intake and hydration of the infant, thus reducing the elevated bilirubin. In rare cases, some infants may benefit from a time-limited, temporary interruption (12-48 hours) of breastfeeding with replacement feeding to help aid in the diagnosis of breast milk jaundice. Ongoing clinical assessment, including repeat bilirubin levels, will help determine when breastfeeding can resume.

Temporary breastfeeding interruption is required, it is critical to help mothers maintain their milk production during this time.

newborn jaundice
Your newborn needs extra care. Image courtesy: Shutterstock

Should a jaundiced breastfed infant be supplemented?

Sometimes. Jaundice is one of the possible indications for supplementation in healthy, term infants as outlined in the Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine’s clinical protocols on supplementation external icon and jaundice external icon. Any decisions about supplementation of a jaundiced newborn should be made on a case-by-case basis.


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