25 February 2015

Breastfeeding & Jaundice

When my daughter Harlow was born it never even crossed my mind that she might ever have jaundice. My son didn't have it when he was born so why should my daughter? Well, she was jaundice which wasn't a massive deal however I realised I didn't actually know what being jaundice meant apart from the fact your skin and the whites of your eyes were a bit yellow. So for the benefit of all the other mothers out there with babies who have jaundice (and possibly breastfeeding) here's a little bit more info about the condition.

First of all, what is jaundice? Here's how the NHS describe is: "Jaundice is caused by the build-up of bilirubin in the blood. Bilirubin is a yellow substance produced when red blood cells are broken down. Jaundice is common in newborn babies because babies have a high level of red blood cells in their blood and these are broken down and replaced frequently. The liver in newborn babies is also not fully developed, so it is less effective at removing the bilirubin from the blood. By the time a baby is about two weeks old, their liver is more effective at processing bilirubin, so jaundice often corrects itself by this age without causing any harm. In a small number of cases, jaundice can be the sign of an underlying health condition. This is often the case if jaundice develops shortly after birth (within the first 24 hours)."

Harlow looking a bit yellow at 4 days old.
Newborn jaundice is very common and the medical term for it is neonatal jaundice. It usually occurs two to three days after birth and symptoms can include the following;

1. Yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes.
2. Yellowing of the palms or soles of feet.
3. Dark/ yellow urine (a newborn baby's urine should be colourless).
4. Pale coloured poo instead of yellow.

Normally after around two weeks babies should start to show less symptoms of jaundice and it gradually rectifies itself on it's own. For reasons that are unclear, breastfeeding a baby increases the risk of them developing jaundice, which can often last for a month or longer. This seems to have happened to Harlow as although she's almost seven weeks she still has a slight tinge to her skin. The health profession do say though that in most cases the benefits of breastfeeding far outweigh any risks associated with jaundice.

When I visited the health visitors at my local clinic to have Harlow weighed when she was three weeks five days old, they did advise that if she was still quite yellow at four weeks old then it would be best to have a doctor take a look at her just in case. So when four weeks came she still looked yellow so I called the doctors and made an appointment for first thing that morning. The doctor was great and gave her a thorough check up with lots of questions for myself and the other half. All seemed fine with little Harlow but just to be on the safe side the doctor informed us she would call the local children's hospital to see what advice they would give. Around mid morning that day I received a phone call from the children's hospital asking the other half and I to bring Harlow in for a blood test, better safe than sorry. Off we trotted to have her blood taken and let me tell you she was not happy about that, poor lamb. It was a simple heel prick but since she's so little it took a bit longer to get the required amount of blood and she did not like having her heel squeezed.

Later on that same day in the afternoon the blood results came back and the nurse phoned to inform us that yes the levels of jaundice were still a bit high but that they weren't concerned as such and it was still probably due to her being a breast fed baby. I was to continue with the breastfeeding and just make sure that the levels of jaundice were continuing to go down i.e. she was getting less and less yellow by the weeks. Harlow is almost seven weeks now and thankfully the whites of her eyes are no longer yellow and her skin is starting to turn more towards pink than yellow. The health visitors seem happy with her so fingers crossed the jaundice will completely clear up soon.

Harlow looking super yellow at 11 days old.
It is worrying though when your newborn has jaundice, especially as it can be an underlying symptom of something more serious such as;

1. An underactive thyroid gland (hypothyroidism) – where the thyroid gland does not produce enough hormones.
2. Blood group incompatibility – when the mother and baby have different blood types, and these are mixed during the pregnancy or the birth.
3. Rhesus factor disease – a condition that can occur if the mother has rhesus-negative blood and the baby has rhesus-positive blood.
4. An inherited enzyme deficiency) – such as a deficiency of glucose-6-phosphate-dehydrogenase (G-6-PD), an enzyme that helps red blood cells function.
5. A urinary tract infection.
6. Crigler-Najjar syndrome – an inherited condition that adversely affects the enzyme responsible for processing bilirubin, leading to a build-up of bilirubin.
7. An obstruction or defect in the biliary system.

I think the best advice I could give to any parent with a newborn who has jaundice is to keep an eye on it weekly and visit the health visitors to ask for their advice. Try not to worry if it's not clearing quickly, especially if breastfeeding. If you are concerned you can book a doctors appointment for your little one and ask to be referred for blood tests. I'm glad we had Harlow checked over, the sooner the doctors pick something up the better for your baby as treatment can start asap.

1 comments on "Breastfeeding & Jaundice"

ghostwritermummy on 19 March 2015 at 21:07 said...

Fab post, thank you so much for sharing. All of mine have been slightly jaundiced but Elsie was quite severe in comparison. She also struggled to feed which didn't help either. I wish I'd known more about it too, I just assumed it was something all babies got!
Thanks for linking up to #MaternityMatters x

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