Breast Milk Jaundice - An Overview

Breast Milk Jaundice - An Overview

A newborn is closely watched right from the moment he steps into this world. The team of specialists monitors every minute changes that occur in the baby, jaundice is one of them. Jaundice, as we all know, is a condition in which eyes and skin color turn yellow. 

It is due to high level of bilirubin, a yellowish pigment formed during the breakdown of red blood cells.


  • Breastmilk jaundice is a condition that occurs typically one week after birth
  • The condition is said to be genetic and runs in families
  • The treatment is performed in fewer cases but breastfeeding should not be stopped

In newborns, it is a temporary condition and according to an estimate, it occurs in 60 percent of the total neonates. But this is different from the breast milk jaundice which typically occurs one week after birth.

What is Breast Milk Jaundice?

Breast milk jaundice as the name denotes is a condition associated with the breast milk. It is normally seen in the healthy breastfed babies. 

This condition can last up to 12 weeks and usually does not cause any health complications in the newborn.

The newborns come with high levels of red blood cells. When the body starts removing the old red blood cells, the yellow pigment bilirubin is created which is broken down by the mature liver. 

This pigment is usually passed through urine or stool.

What causes breastmilk jaundice?

The experts are still uncertain as to what causes breastmilk jaundice but it is said there is some substance in the breast milk that prevents the protein in infant’s liver from breaking down bilirubin.

Difference between Breastmilk jaundice and Breastfeeding jaundice

You must be thinking the two as same but breastmilk jaundice and breastfeeding jaundice are two separate things. 

Breastfeeding jaundice only occurs in newborns that struggle to get adequate amount of breast milk or is supplemented with other alternatives, while breastmilk jaundice occurs due to some substance interfering with the normal breaking down of bilirubin.

Who is at the risk?

Any newborn can get breastmilk jaundice, however, many experts believe that it runs in families. So a family history of this condition might increase the chances.

Symptoms of breastmilk jaundice

After the first week of birth, following symptoms can be seen in an infant with breastmilk jaundice:

  • Fatigue
  • Sharp piercing cry
  • Poor weight gain
  • Skin and white of eyes turning yellow

Diagnosis of breastmilk jaundice

Usually, the physician observes whether the infant is latching onto the breast properly and getting sufficient amount of milk or not. 

Laboratory tests such as bilirubin level and blood tests are performed to confirm breastmilk jaundice.

Treatment of breastmilk jaundice

Generally, treatment isn’t needed in case of breastmilk jaundice as it is a temporary condition and goes on its own.

  • Some close follow-up might be needed.
  • It is completely safe to continue breastfeeding the infant.
  • The doctor might recommend breastfeeding the baby more often or recommends some additional baby formula. This is to reduce the amount of bilirubin.
  • In severe cases, the infant might be treated with phototherapy. The child is placed under special blue lights to help break down bilirubin. They are provided with protective glasses to prevent eye damage. It can also be performed at home if bilirubin levels are not high.
  • If the bilirubin levels reach 20 milligrams or above, the mother could be advised to cease breastfeeding for 24 hours in conjunction with phototherapy.

There is no way to prevent breastmilk jaundice. The best option is to check with the healthcare provider right away if you see your baby’s skin and eyes turning yellow.

You must also not stop breastfeeding simply by seeing the yellow discoloration as breastmilk is an extremely important source of nutrient that protects the baby against several infections and diseases.

If you are facing any trouble, consult the lactation specialist or doctor for the best possible treatment.