Jaundice is a result of buildup in the blood of the bilirubin, a yellow pigment that comes from the breakdown of older red blood cells. It’s normal for the red blood cells to break down, although the bilirubin formed doesn’t normally cause jaundice because the liver will metabolize it and then get rid of it in the gut.
The newborn baby will often become jaundiced during the first few days due to the liver enzyme that metabolizes the bilirubin being relatively immature. Therefore, newborn babies will have more red blood cells than adults, and thus more will break down at any given time. This usually peaks on the second to the third day, and is quite common. Bilirubin is eliminated from the body via the urine and the stools, but especially the stools. Colostrum, the early breast milk which is readily available from birth, is a natural laxative which helps move the stools through the baby’s system more quickly. Frequent, unlimited feedings of colostrum should be the norm for your baby in the first several days until the milk comes in.
Breast Milk Jaundice
This is not as common as Physiologic Jaundice. No one knows what actually causes it, but it is thought that there is some component in some breast milk that blocks certain proteins in the liver from breaking down bilirubin. In order to diagnose it, the baby should be at least a week old. The baby should also be gaining well with breast feeding alone, having lots of bowel movements with passing of clear urine.
Breast milk jaundice will peak at 10 – 21 days, although it can last for 2 – 3 months. Contrary to what you may think, breast milk jaundice is normal. Rarely, if ever, does breast feeding need to be stopped for even a brief period of time.
If the baby is doing well on breast milk, there is no reason at all to stop or supplement with a lactation aid.