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Infant Jaundice

Updated: Sep 30, 2019


Jaundice is characterized as a condition where serum bilirubin levels are high due to rapid breakdown of red blood cells. Bilirubin builds up in the liver and could result in damage to the infant. It is most often characterized by its physical yellow appearance on the infant's skin and in the eyes.


Jaundice can indeed occur in adulthood, however mainly within the population of individuals that have impaired liver function. It is most common in newborn infants--- approximately two-thirds of all infants experience it typically within the first weeks of life. This is because infants tend to have high levels of hemoglobin and blood volume for increased oxygenation after birth.


Formula fed infants usually resolve jaundice symptoms after 1 week, whereas breastfed infants may take a bit longer at around 3-6 weeks. This is not uncommon and considered normal for two reasons.


1) Colostrum is more calorie dense than formula and therefore a baby will have less output (wet and dirty diapers)---which is the way the body discards excess bilirubin.

2) Also, there is an unknown element in breastmilk that causes increased absorption of bilirubin which is attributed to a higher levels in breastfed infants.


Some believe that this form of bilirubin may have an antioxidant effect and may be beneficial, however---we still encourage medical supervision in any case of jaundice.


Jaundice can also occur from poor feeding and/or milk transfer and may be a late indicator of difficulties with breastfeeding. This issue should be evaluated by a lactation specialist.


Here are a list of other factors that may cause 'hyperbilirubinemia':

- genetic factors

- prematurity

- blood abnormalities

- maternal diabetes

- UTI

- hypothyriodism

-etc.


A very severe form of jaundice called kernicterus --if not resolved-- can cause brain damage due to encephalopathy. This damage can range from cerebral palsy, deafness, paralysis to upward gaze, inability to sit or stand, walk, or swallow.


In these extreme cases, phototherapy may be used to turn these fat soluble particles into water soluble---which helps the excretion of bilirubin more quickly.


These are rare cases and the most effective way of preventing or diminishing signs of jaundice is to make sure your baby is feeding well and has a good latch. Mamas Maternal Health can help to assure that your baby is getting enough nutrients and calories to grow healthy and strong... Check out our website to find out how!


Until next time!


Mikayla and Cassie

Mamas Maternal Health Registered Dietitians/Lactation Counselors


References:

Lawrence, M., (2016)., Jaundice and the Breastfed Baby., Breastfeeding and Human Lactation., p 328


Photo by MI PHAM on Unsplash


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