What is jaundice?
It’s when bilirubin—a yellow/brown substance in liver bile—builds up in the bloodstream. It is the byproduct of your body breaking down older red blood cells. This is a normal process; what isn’t normal is bilirubin building up and leading to jaundice. If everything works as it should, the liver will metabolize the bilirubin and then get rid of it in the gut.
What does jaundice have to do with newborn babies?
After giving birth in a hospital, it is commonplace for the nurses to check the baby for jaundice. Some babies become jaundiced during the first few days of their life due to the liver enzyme that metabolizes the bilirubin being immature. Therefore, newborn babies have more red blood cells than adults, and so more will break down at any given time.
What is “breast milk jaundice?”
There is a condition that’s commonly referred to as “breast milk jaundice,” although no one knows what actually causes it. It affects babies that are at least a week old and are being exclusively breastfed.
“Breast milk jaundice” is when an excess of bilirubin builds up in the bloodstream of a breastfed newborn. It peaks at 10 – 21 days, although it can last for up to 2 – 3 months. Contrary to popular opinion, breast milk jaundice is relatively normal, and usually resolves on its own. But it’s something to discuss with your child’s pediatrician. Occasionally, infections of the urinary tract or an under-functioning thyroid gland or other rare illnesses may cause the same type of symptoms. Rarely, if ever, does breastfeeding need to be stopped, even briefly.