I have had six babies and they all had a form of jaundice. Newborn jaundice occurs when a baby has high levels of bilirubin in the blood. When babies are still inside of their mothers, the placenta takes bilirubin away from the baby’s body. After the baby is born, the liver begins to take over, but sometimes doesn’t work as efficiently as it should, so the build up of bilirubin in the blood can’t exit the body quick enough. When this occurs, the baby starts looking yellow and when levels get high enough, the baby is considered jaundice.
Premature babies and babies with lower birth weights are more likely to have jaundice. I’ve never had a baby that weighed 7 pounds. My biggest baby weighed 6 lbs. 13 oz. They have all been full term, but were tiny.
This is a picture of Jillian the day after she was born. See how yellow she was?
I am now pretty good when it comes to detecting jaundice. I know what to look for, the very first signs, what to tell the pediatricians who see my babies in the hospital, and now, how to actually “treat” my babies in the hospital myself to keep their jaundice at bay.
This is Jillian under the bili lights in the hospital.
Newborn jaundice is extremely common and easily treated. The problem with jaundice is that unless you’ve had a baby who suffered from it, you really don’t know what to look for. And even if you have, you don’t always realize it until it gets pretty bad.
Most all babies are born with a little bit of jaundice, called physiological jaundice. It usually peeks within 2-4 days after birth, then goes away needing no treatment.
Newborn jaundice is more likely to occur in breastfed babies. There are two kinds of jaundice in these babies: breastfeeding jaundice and breast milk jaundice. I have had babies with both.
When babies are exclusively breastfed, they live off of colostrum until the mother’s milk comes in. Colostrum is liquid gold, but many babies don’t poop a whole lot until they are drinking mama’s fatty, yummy milk, and in order to excrete bilirubin, baby’s gotta poop. So, breastfeeding jaundice makes a lot of sense. It doesn’t last long, and not all breastfed babies get it, but phototherapy, either in the hospital, at home, or both, is often necessary if they do.
Breast milk jaundice is different than breastfeeding jaundice and I really don’t understand it completely. What I do know is that it usually peaks within 2-3 weeks after birth, but then low levels can linger for weeks, even months.
My fifth baby, Maddie Wallace, had breastfeeding jaundice AND breast milk jaundice. Her levels went way down after phototherapy at home, but she still looked slightly yellow for months after. Her poops weren’t bright yellow, like normal breastfed babies, either. They were much more green, which was the only indication that suggested she had breast milk jaundice. Her poop was green for just as long as she had the yellow tint. They both went away at the exact same time. I continued to breastfeed, just like normal, the entire time, too. There was no need to change her diet.
Here is a picture of Maddie Wallace at home, with her bili blanket.
A bili blanket is a form of phototherapy. It’s not a “blanket”….it looks like this…
I just put my babies in gowns and slide it up their gown, covering their back & neck. I leave them in it around 22 hours a day. You can even nurse them with it on. It works wonderfully to break down bilirubin and is awesome because it comes right to your door!
I have been through just about every situation…
- I’ve been a total basket case when finding out that my baby had jaundice…thinking that the worst was happening.
- I’ve cried and felt helpless when they rolled the bili lights in my hospital room.
- I almost had to leave the hospital without my baby because of her high numbers.
- I’ve had to drive to the hospital and/or pediatrician’s office every morning for a week to have my baby’s heel pricked so we could check her numbers.
- I’ve had to wait at home for hours waiting for a call from the nurse to tell me either good, or bad news.
- I’ve been called by my pediatrician himself, stressing that my husband MUST MEET HIM RIGHT NOW AT HIS OFFICE to get a bili blanket because her numbers were so high. (Talk about being freaked out.)
- I’ve left the hospital with a non-jaundice baby that quickly turned into a seriously jaundice baby two days after being at home.
- I told a pediatrician the day after delivering my fifth baby that I wanted to start my baby on photo therapy before she was even due to have her bilirubin levels checked. And he agreed. And she was indeed jaundice even after 24 hours of using a bili blanket.
- I would keep going, but right now you’re wondering if this is ever going to end.
Here is my advice if you find yourself in a similar situation. I am not a doctor, just a mother with experience.
- Don’t freak out. Your baby will be okay, I pinky promise.
- Don’t stop breastfeeding your baby and don’t allow anyone to talk you into supplementing with formula, especially when you’re in the hospital and very vulnerable. This is rarely necessary and the best thing for your baby is YOUR milk.
- Don’t mistaken your baby’s yellowness for having a sun tan. A baby should be pink…not tanned.
- Press on your baby’s bare belly or arm with your index finger. If her skin turns very yellow, then right back, you have a case of jaundice. Immediately ask your nurse to contact the pediatrician.
- Being proactive will very much help your baby out. Sometimes starting phototherapy after a higher reading can get rid of jaundice even before leaving the hospital.
- Breastfeed, breastfeed, BREASTFEED as often as you can. Newborns will sleep ALL DAY LONG if you let them. Wake her up by changing her diaper, taking her clothes off…anything that will get her awake enough to nurse again.
- Night time cluster feedings are EXCELLENT for a baby with jaundice. You will be exhausted, but the more she eats, the more she poops. Don’t get frustrated, just let her nurse.
- Let the sun shine on her. Undress her & put her in front of your window. Natural sunlight is great treatment.
- Look at phototherapy as a positive thing–don’t let it upset you too much. Your baby may cry, or she may not. She may sleep, she may not. If you can’t take seeing her upset, consider sending her to the special care nursery. I’ve done this before because I was so emotional. They called me every 2-3 hours to nurse and I took her home jaundice free.
- Allow her to suck on a pacifier. Trust me in this…sucking is comforting and a natural reflex. She won’t get nipple confusion…milk comes out of only one of those 2 things. The confusion comes when using a bottle because milk comes from BOTH a bottle & your breast. Milk doesn’t come from a pacifier. If she’s hungry, she won’t take it. Here is my favorite pacifier of all time.
I hope you don’t have to deal with the effects of jaundice, but if you do, just know you are not alone. I now expect for to see bili lights or a bili blanket, but this may not be your experience at all. But don’t worry if you find yourself in my shoes…your sweet little baby will be pink in no time.