Some health problems in babies can make it harder for them to breastfeed. But breastmilk provides the healthy start your baby needs — even more so if your baby is premature or sick. Even if your baby cannot breastfeed directly from you, you can express or pump your milk and give it to your baby with a dropper, spoon, or cup.
Jaundice is caused by an excess of bilirubin. Bilirubin is found in the blood but usually only in very small amounts. In the newborn period, bilirubin can build up faster than it can be removed from the intestinal tract. Jaundice can appear as a yellowing of the skin and eyes. It affects most newborns to some degree, appearing between the second and third day of life. The jaundice usually clears up by 2 weeks of age and usually is not harmful.
Some breastfed babies develop jaundice when they do not get enough breastmilk, either because of breastfeeding challenges or because the mother’s milk hasn’t come in. This type of breastfeeding jaundice usually clears up quickly with more frequent breastfeeding or feeding of expressed breastmilk or after the mother’s milk comes in.
Your baby’s doctor may monitor your baby’s bilirubin level with blood tests. Some babies with jaundice may need treatment with a special light (called phototherapy). This light helps break down bilirubin into a form that can be removed from the body easily.
Keep in mind that breastfeeding is best for your baby. Even if your baby gets jaundice, this is not something that you caused. Your doctor can help you make sure that your baby eats well and that the jaundice goes away.
If your baby develops jaundice, let your baby’s doctor know. Discuss treatment options and let the doctor know that you do not want to interrupt breastfeeding if at all possible.