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Is it safe to breastfeed a baby with jaundice?

Updated: Jun 13, 2023

Breastfeed your baby in jaundice

Breastfeeding is a journey, but if you started it while your baby was ill with jaundice, you're probably going to have extra concerns and doubts. Jaundice might be difficult, but nursing and jaundice are generally compatible, especially as regular feces and urination will aid in your baby's recovery from jaundice.

Jaundice typically does not cause any problems and goes away on its own with time. When a mother first starts to breastfeed her baby, jaundice is frequently still present, but typically the steady flow of milk helps reduce the baby's bilirubin levels.

Is it true that breastfeeding affects jaundice?

Jaundice is more prevalent in breastfed infants than in formula-fed infants, but it mostly affects newborns who are not receiving enough breast milk from their mothers because of their mother's late milk supply or because of difficulties with breastfeeding, like the baby's improper latching.

WHO recommends breastfeeding your newborn at least 8 to 12 times per day to help you produce more breast milk and lower your baby's bilirubin level after birth.

How Breastfeeding can help your baby through Jaundice?

We suggest the following actions to avoid excessive weight loss, guarantee adequate weight gain, and reduce the risk of jaundice:

  • Even mothers who give birth via cesarean section, start nursing as soon as possible after birth, ideally within the first hour.

  • Exclusively breastfeed. By breastfeeding your infant at least 8–12 times each day, you can ensure that they are getting enough food. During the first 24 hours, babies may only receive around 1 teaspoonful of every feeding, but these feedings also serve as the mother's body's natural cues or triggers to produce more milk.

  • Don't take supplements unless a doctor tells you to. If supplements are required, expressed milk from the mother is best, then donor milk, then infant formula. You shouldn't administer both water and glucose water.

  • By paying close attention to position and latch right away, you can maximize breastfeeding support.

  • When a mother is awake and attentive, encourage skin-to-skin contact since it increases milk production and makes the mother's milk more accessible to the baby.

  • Recognize the signs of early feeding. Healthcare professionals should inform expectant parents about early feeding cues and warning signals, such as an extremely sleepy infant or one who doesn't exhibit hunger cues. Parents should receive advice from providers. Infants should be fed as soon as they show signs of hunger rather than when they start to cry, which is a late sign of hunger.

What causes jaundice in the breastfed baby?

Physiological Jaundice:

The most typical and prevalent type of jaundice in infants is jaundice. In the first week of life, it can affect up to 60% of full-term babies and is brought on by high bilirubin levels. A chemical known as bilirubin is produced during the regular breakdown of red blood cells. The liver processes it and eliminates it. When a baby's liver is unable to effectively eliminate bilirubin from the bloodstream, jaundice will start to appear. Jaundice will go away and have no long-term effects on the baby once the baby starts to mature and the red blood cell counts start to decline. This typically occurs 1-2 weeks after delivery.

Breast milk jaundice

This type of neonatal jaundice typically lasts several weeks after birth and lasts longer than typical jaundice. In healthy, full-term neonates, it can happen. Although the exact cause of breast milk jaundice is unknown, doctors think it is caused by a substance in breast milk that prevents the liver from properly processing and dissolving bilirubin.

Even when jaundice is present for a prolonged period, consequences are uncommon as long as the infant is fed adequately and their bilirubin levels are watched. There are certain treatments for breast milk jaundice that can aid in lowering the level of bilirubin in the infant's body. Common therapies include phototherapy and brief supplemental use of baby formula or donor human milk. Rarely, breastfeeding might have to be temporarily stopped.


The baby needs more fluids as a result of phototherapy. Usually, more frequent feedings can offset this higher requirement if the baby is successfully nursing. However, utilize a breastfeeding aid to supplement, preferably expressed breastmilk, expressed milk with sugar water, or sugar water alone rather than formula if it is considered that the infant needs extra fluids.

To reiterate, bilirubin lights are not necessary to treat jaundice if the baby is breastfeeding normally, drinking from the breast, and gaining weight normally.


A certain amount of jaundice in neonates is common and most likely unavoidable. By feeding newborns at least 8 to 12 times a day for the first few days, and by carefully identifying babies at highest risk, the risk for significant jaundice can frequently be decreased.

Blood type and atypical antibodies should be checked on all expectant mothers. Follow-up testing on the infant's cord is advised if the mother is Rh negative. If the mother has the blood type O, this can also be done.

Most consequences of jaundice can be avoided with careful monitoring of all newborns throughout their first five days of life. This comprises:

  • Taking into account a baby's risk of jaundice

  • Monitoring the bilirubin level throughout the first few days

  • A minimum of one follow-up visit should be planned for newborns who are discharged from the hospital within a week.

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