So what is jaundice anyways and how will it affect your newborn? Jaundice is a yellow undertone to the whites of the eyes and the skin. All of us break down red blood cells all day long. It’s the liver’s job to take that broken down red blood cell and process it for elimination. Jaundice is caused from the buildup of bilirubin (a by-product of the breakdown of that red blood cell) in the blood system. At birth, it is normal for an infant’s liver to not be fully functioning; therefore a little jaundice is actually expected and normal. It is believed that bilirubin in lower levels after birth works like an antioxidant in the body – so it’s good in lower levels. It’s when it gets too high or if jaundice presents itself within the first 24 hrs of life, that we worry about dangerous side effects that can affect the neurological system and developing brain. Jaundice is normal but it can cause problems.
If your baby is jaundiced you need to monitor a few things more closely. The most important way you get rid of bilirubin is through frequent feedings and frequent bowel movements. So, monitor messy diapers and be sure to feed your baby at least every 2-3 hours during the day and at least every 3-4 hours at night. Definitely feed on demand if your infant wakes up sooner.
Also, watch how alert your infant is with feedings. It’s very normal for infants to eat, mess diapers, and sleep. Newborns don’t have a lot of awake time typically. However, she should be alert enough to latch to your breast and suckle for a feeding. If she’s hard to wake up for feedings or is not nursing well, call your health care provider. Sometimes it’s necessary to pump your breasts for milk in place of feeding times when your infant will not alert well enough to breastfeed. You can then syringe or bottle feed your breast milk to be sure your infant does not get into trouble due to the jaundice level rising in the blood stream and dehydration.
Many jaundiced infants will latch and then fall asleep at the breast. Syringe and bottle feeding is much less tiresome to infants (the milk just drips without work) and can help a baby and family over the hurdle of a tired infant when jaundice is the cause. Usually 12-24 hours of some syringe feedings when baby is tired can help clear the jaundice to where your infant is much more alert for breastfeeding directly.
Learn more about how jaundice is tested and treated by clicking here.