What is Breast Milk Jaundice?

J. Leach

Breast milk jaundice is a condition that occurs in an otherwise healthy infant. Jaundice symptoms may appear 24 hours after birth and, if it lasts longer than a week, it is most likely breast milk jaundice, which can last up to six weeks. A major symptom of this condition is the skin, mucous membranes, eyes, and bodily fluids may appear discolored by a yellow, orange, or greenish hue. It is typically easier to see this skin discoloration under natural light rather than artificial light. Symptoms can also include lighter than normal fecal matter and itchy skin.

Breast milk jaundice symptoms usually appear within 24 hours of birth.
Breast milk jaundice symptoms usually appear within 24 hours of birth.

The liver removes waste products and toxins from hemoglobin. Hemoglobin is an oxygen carrying protein and pigment found in red blood cells. As red blood cells are destroyed, hemoglobin is released into the blood. The waste product that results from the debris produced by hemoglobin and the destroyed cells is bilirubin.

Newborns often develop jaundice a few days after birth due to the fact that the liver has not yet fully matured.
Newborns often develop jaundice a few days after birth due to the fact that the liver has not yet fully matured.

Newborns often develop jaundice a few days after birth because the liver has not fully matured, and cannot clean waste products from the blood efficiently. The condition is known as neonatal or physiological jaundice. After birth, the infant’s body starts to produce red blood cells similar to an adult, and the fetal red blood cells are destroyed. This produces a large amount of waste. The immature liver cannot process all of the bilirubin and the symptoms of jaundice can appear.

Physiological jaundice occurs in more than half of all infants. Quite often the intake of milk accentuates already existing symptoms of this condition. The discoloration can appear far more pronounced than in normal physiological jaundice.

No one really knows what causes breast milk jaundice. Breast milk seems to be the only real contributing factor for the condition, especially if no other causes can be identified. It is believed that factors in the milk can block proteins that the liver produces to break down bilirubin. The mother does not need to stop breastfeeding the child, because the condition will typically eventually go away on its own.

An infant should be examined by a doctor to determine if his jaundice symptoms are indeed synonymous with breast milk jaundice, and not another, separate condition known as breastfeeding jaundice. If the infant is not ingesting enough milk, he can show symptoms of breastfeeding jaundice. This is caused by the body not being able to produce frequent bowel movements due to a lack of food, and the bilirubin in the intestines gets reabsorbed by the body, rather than passing as fecal matter. This condition usually appears during the first few days of an infant’s life, and can be easily mistaken for physiological or breast milk jaundice.

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Discussion Comments

Rotergirl

I'd heard of babies being jaundiced and having to spend time under the blue lights in the hospital, but never breast milk jaundice. That's interesting about the sunlight, but something I learned in my photography class (believe it or not) is that sunlight is actually blue! So I guess it makes sense to put a baby in sunlight to help jaundice.

I was a blue light baby when the technology was still pretty new. Doctors were hailing the blue lights in hospitals as the newest thing, according to my mom. So I benefited from that research because the hospital where I was born invested in it early.

Pippinwhite

My cousin's little girl had breast milk jaundice. One way they treated her was to get her into sunlight (per the doctor's suggestion). Her nursery was kind of dark, so she lined a dresser drawer with blankets and put her in the drawer and took her outside into the sun. It wasn't blasting down on her, but it was bright. In a week or so, she was much better.

Apparently, something about light therapy helped her body break down the wastes and helped her liver along. The doctor had told her that it was just a time thing, but the sunshine would help. And it did!

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