Is “Breastmilk” Jaundice Crap?
Jaundice is very common among newborns. During my prenatal class, the lactation consultant has prepared me for handling breastfeeding and jaundice. I was glad to have read “Jaundice in the Breastfed Baby” by Anne Smith, IBCLC. The article explains the various types of jaundice and supports the case for continued breastfeeding. I love her conclusion:
In most cases, jaundice is a normal, possibly even beneficial process that can be managed without interrupting breastfeeding. The treatment for physiologic jaundice is more breastfeeding rather than less, and sick babies with pathologic jaundice need breastmilk even more than healthy babies. Even in rare cases where the jaundice is caused by the breastfeeding, there is no reason to wean and every reason to continue giving your baby the best possible nourishment – mother’s milk.
A renowned doctor, Dr. Jack Newman, states the following in Breastfeeding and Jaundice:
There is not one bit of evidence that this [so-called breastmilk] jaundice causes any problem at all for the baby.
Do not stop breastfeeding for “breastmilk” jaundice.
When breastfed newborns get jaundice for a more prolonged period (past 2 to 3 weeks), some paediatricians start to point their fingers at breastfeeding as the cause, citing the so-called breastmilk jaundice. While these doctors know how to ask mums to stop breastfeeding temporarily, hardly any advice is provided on how to maintain the milk supply or prevent nipple confusion. In the end, babies could lose their once in a lifetime chance to be breastfed exclusively up to the period the mum originally intended.
CASE #1: Some months back, a friend’s baby’s paediatrician said that her newborn had breastmilk jaundice and was advised to stop breastfeeding and use formula-milk feeding for one week. She was not advised to express milk round the clock, so she expressed only when her breasts are full. Within a few days, her milk supply reduced drastically and was difficult to raise. She gave up breastfeeding. Original intention: breastfeed up to 6 months or more.
My thoughts: I deduce that the paediatrician is not pro-breastfeeding; instead likely a full supporter of formula milk. How do I know? I brought Vee to his clinic once, went to its storage area to breastfeed him and saw this HUGE shelf filled with tins and packets of formula milk! For a moment, I thought I was at a supermarket!
CASE #2: Another friend just said her baby’s paediatrician suggested breastmilk jaundice since no other cause could be determined. He even bluntly said it could be due to her “poor quality milk”!
My thoughts: I never knew that formula milk could be of “higher” quality than breastmilk. Excuse me, Dr., didn’t medical school teach you that breastmilk is nature’s PERFECT food for young homo sapiens?
Our Experience With Jaundice Handled By A Pro-Breastfeeding Paediatrician
Fortunately, our journey started right — we were recommended a pro-breastfeeding paediatrician. On Day 9, Vee became sleepy and looked yellowish. We brought him to the paediatrician for a check and his level was 354. The doctor advised hospitalisation for phototherapy.
We managed to grab a family room so that I could stay with Vee and keep breastfeeding him. The paediatrician was very encouraging and assured me that breastfeeding helps baby to pass lots of yellowish stool, which would eventually bring the jaundice level down.
The next morning, his level was down to 233, still high but phototherapy was no longer necessary. We went home, continued breastfeeding him and true to the doctor’s words, his jaundice went away after a few more weeks.
How to Avoid “Breastmilk”Jaundice Crap?
In my article “Breastfeeding: Top 8 Mistakes to Avoid“, mistake #7 includes lack of professional support. Misinformed advice by people of authority could break a budding breastfeeding relationship or burst a new Mum’s morale.
In Vee’s first year of life, we visited the paediatrician for tonnes of reasons (thanks to his super-anxious first-time parents) — jaundice, runny nose, swell near the anal opening, eczema, fever, etc. The doctor was always supportive of breastfeeding and found ways to help Vee get better without interrupting breastfeeding.
If you are determined to breastfeed, then seek out a paediatrician who is supportive of breastfeeding. If breastfeeding really needs to be interrupted, get advice from a qualified lactation consultant on maintaining milk supply and preventing nipple confusion. Your baby will thank you for this.
Relevant reading: Breastfeeding: Top 8 Mistakes to Avoid