Many infants develop jaundice within several days after birth. A baby becomes jaundiced when bilirubin, which is produced naturally by the body, builds up faster than a newborn’s liver can break it down and get rid of it in the baby’s stool. Too much bilirubin makes a baby’s skin and eyes look yellow.
Since drinking breastmilk helps remove bilirubin through the baby’s stools, babies who are not breastfeeding adequately are at greater risk of developing jaundice. Jaundice usually either resolves on its own or may require treatment with special lights that help break down the bilirubin.
Feeding more frequently or for longer periods of time to help pass the bilirubin in the stools is almost always helpful. Certainly, there is no reason to stop breastfeeding if your baby develops jaundice of this type. In selected cases, your pediatrician might recommend a formula supplement temporarily.
Occasionally, jaundice lasts longer than two weeks. You can still usually continue breastfeeding, but sometimes your pediatrician may ask you to stop breastfeeding for a day or two. If you must interrupt breastfeeding for any reason, be sure to express your breastmilk using a quality electric breast pump so you can keep producing milk and can restart nursing easily. Your nurse, lactation specialist, or La Leche League group can give you guidance in using a breast pump.