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Breast Milk Jaundice

Posted on Aug 2, 2015 in Health, Motherhood, The Fam

Have you heard of Breast Milk Jaundice?  I hadn’t.

Leslie had jaundice in the hospital when she was born, glow blanket and everything.


The whites of her eyes have yet to be bright.  While common among newborns, jaundice is less common now at 7 weeks.  The pediatrician told me to take her in if not cleared up by 5 weeks, so we went in two weeks ago and had her heel pricked to check the bilirubin levels.  We checked again a week later along with a bunch of other labs to rule out other problems (gotta love finding a vein on a newborn – !), and levels were still not improved.  The nurse called me Monday afternoon with the results and explained that what I needed to do was give Leslie a hiatus on breast milk to help it clear up.  No more breast milk until Friday.  I must have asked her to clarify a half dozen times – Friday?  wait, Friday morning? after labs or anytime? starting now?  I knew I was slowly losing it so I tried to hang up before my voice wavered and the melt down ensued.

Why the freak out?  I know it doesn’t seem like that big of a deal…just feed her formula and pump for a few days.  Tons of mothers do bottles/formula.  Well, I didn’t have the emotional space to handle it.  Not only did I feel like my body was poisoning my baby with bad breast milk (perhaps a little over dramatic, but hear me out), but without any warning I would have to deny my little one access to her greatest soother and most intimate time with me.  Intimate for her, yes, but also for me – that time for us releases a hormone (Oxytocin) in me that helps me feel connected and loving toward my baby.  It’s one of God’s gifts to nursing mothers to temper the insanity of caring for a babe around the clock.  There’s also a risk that the baby will not cooperate with going back to nursing, or that I would mess with my milk supply because I would have to be pumping around the clock.  Ugh!  Freak out.

Ever wonder what to say when a mom is freaking out about something that you’re not sure is a big deal?  I texted a friend about it and her response was perfect…so perfect that I want to share it.

“I’m sorry!  Breast feeding is such an intimate, special time for mommy and baby.  I had never heard of breastfeeding jaundice so I looked it up. 🙂 hopefully her levels will go down after a little formula break and you can be back to breastfeeding this weekend. Pumping and bottle feeding will take more work, but I will pray it will only be temporary and that she will take well to a bottle in the meantime”

Boom!  Thank you for understanding! (And this friend has not breastfed, mind you.)

Well, the next 42 hours were insane with a very fussy baby who seemed to hate formula and couldn’t handle being held by me without searching for a nipple.  I had to make an urgent trip to Target with all three kids to get supplies – after all, I now needed formula, bottles and working pump parts every 2-3 hours.  I was stressed out and constantly saying “I’m sorry, baby, we have to wait” and trying to find times to hide from my kids to hook myself up to the pump (no one should have to see that, and I can only imagine the questions they’d have).  Weeks ago, Tyler and I had planned to have some friends watch the older two so we could go on a date Tuesday night.  It ended up that baby was basically inconsolable and we got fast food drive-thru to eat in the car, and ran a quick errand.  We picked up our kids after only an hour of being on edge with our anticipation of connection time being squashed by a screaming baby.  Really, though, I think we were both too exhausted to make good use of the date even if the baby cooperated.  Still, we were grateful for a break from the demands of the older two.

This was harder than I thought, and I got to searching for answers and alternatives.  What I learned is that jaundice is quite common, and generally isn’t harmful to the baby (although in rare cases it could be indicating bigger problems, such as liver failure).  The thought with prolonged jaundice in breastfed babies is that something in the mother’s milk is preventing the bilirubin from absorbing as it should.  Most sources I read said that some have found that switching to formula exclusively for 24-48 hours will resolve the problem, after which breastfeeding can continue.  Other sources said that for a baby who is eating, gaining weight and filling their diapers (check, check, and check for Leslie) that there’s nothing to worry about, breastfeeding shouldn’t need to stop for any reason and eventually the bilirubin levels will settle down, likely by 12 weeks (other sources here and here.)

I was a little bit upset that I didn’t do research before heeding the pediatrician’s advice.  I could have asked for other solutions (like a photo therapy blanket) or even what the real risks are.  Instead I just took their word and dove into a really difficult few days without preparation.  I ended up deciding 42 hours would be enough to merit a breast milk detox – of the few sources condoning the hiatus, they all said 24-48 hour period, not the 3.5 days that was prescribed to me.  I was so happy to feed her again, and almost instantly peace was restored all around.  Phew!  Glad that is over with.


….and I hope it worked.  We went in to get another lab test yesterday morning, *crossing fingers* and praying to be in the clear soon.




  1. Thank you for the pictures of Leslie’s little feet! I am so anxious to meet her…..Love you all! She will be fine! Bruce also has bilirubin issues. It is the ONLY line item on his lab test that are outside the normal range, and he does just fine!

    • I want her to meet you guys, too!!! How odd for Bruce – I’d never know!

  2. That sounds absolutely awful. I’m so sorry you had to go through that. I’m sure I would have felt the same way you did. I hope things are improved now and more back-to-normal for all of you.

  3. Update: it worked! Not that I would choose to do it again…but our labs came back and her count was 10 (was 12.5 the previous week), and they just want to re-test in a month’s time. *relief*

    • I’m so glad to hear this good news!

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