About 2 percent of newborns develop jaundice after they are seven days old. Jaundice that develops in an otherwise healthy breastfeeding infant is known as breast milk jaundice.
The exact cause of breast milk jaundice is unknown. It is believed that certain factors present in the breast milk might obstruct specific hormones in the liver from breaking down bilirubin.
Some researchers suggest that breast milk jaundice might develop if an enzyme that is sometimes present in the breast milk increases reabsorption of bilirubin from the infant’s feces. Breast milk jaundice often runs in families. Nonetheless, not all the siblings in a family might be affected by this condition.
Duration of breast milk jaundice
Breast milk jaundice is a long-term condition. It usually begins when the baby is seven days old and might last for two to three months. The jaundice reaches its peak 10 to 21 days after the inception of the condition.
Symptoms of breast milk jaundice
The skin and the whites of the eyes of the jaundiced infant will appear yellow. Long-term jaundice is rarely caused by any illness or health problem. If any factor other than breast milk is responsible for this condition in the newborn, the child might appear sick, he/she will pass excessively pale or nearly white colored stools, and the urine will be dark in color.
In breast milk jaundice, the amount of bilirubin in the blood does not reach levels that can be dangerous for the baby’s health. However, if after the third week of jaundice the bilirubin level is more than 150 imol per liter, immediate medical intervention is needed for treating the condition.
Breast milk jaundice treatment
Breast milk jaundice is a harmless condition. Although high levels of bilirubin are associated with brain damage, breast milk jaundice is not associated with any health damage. This condition subsides naturally. It is not advisable to stop breastfeeding if the baby develops jaundice. If the bilirubin level is more than 20mg/dL, your physician might ask you to replace breast milk with formula milk for not more than two days, after which you should resume breastfeeding your baby. Occasionally, phototherapy is applied to treat this condition.