Breastfeeding Through Jaundice

Welcoming a baby into the world is one of the most amazing experiences that a woman will ever have.  It’s such a joyful and overwhelming time in a mother’s life.  Here is this precious little one, completely dependent upon you for survival, and so tiny and vulnerable.  

There are many concerns a new mother might have upon her baby’s arrival and it can be easy to become overwhelmed with the information available when an issue arises.  Some mothers become so overwhelmed that they stop listening to their instincts and just blindly follow any advice offered to them.  First time mothers are especially susceptible to this because they simply do not know what to do. 

If my first child had been diagnosed with jaundice, that’s exactly what I would have done because I knew absolutely nothing about being a mother.  By the time that we had our second child, things had changed.  I was more educated and more confident in my own parental instincts.

When Aron was born, we were delighted.  Here was our little 9lb 6oz prince, just as healthy and chubby as could be.    We now had what many would call “the perfect family:” one girl and one boy.

Our little chubba bubba was delivered without any complications and latched on to nurse like a pro the first time.  His tests were all normal and we were just ecstatic to finally have him here (10 days after his due date!).

Then the night before we were planning to leave the hospital, they did a few more routine screenings on him and that’s when they came and told us that our precious newborn boy had jaundice. 

I didn’t even really know how to process what that meant.  I’d heard of jaundice in books and stories, but never known anyone whose baby had it.


From the CDC: 
Jaundice, or yellowing of the skin and eyes, occurs when a normal substance, bilirubin, builds up in the newborn’s bloodstream faster than the liver can break it down and excrete it through the baby’s stool.

The doctor immediately started telling me about how I would most likely HAVE to supplement with formula in order for Aron to overcome this diagnosis.    He gave me a speech about how exclusively breastfed babies have a hard time recovering properly without the supplementation and how they could offer me some samples to get me started there in the hospital. 

Immediately my Mommy alarm went off.  Something just didn’t set well with me about this advice, even though it came from a pediatrician.  God designed women’s bodies to produce this wonderfully amazing milk for our babies.  Aron was nursing just fine and his jaundice case was on the mild end of the spectrum.  So I did something that many would disagree with…I politely told the doctor that I had no need for the formula and that I would continue to nurse him exclusively unless the problem worsened. 

The doctor didn’t seem to like my resistance to his suggestions, but did acquiesce to them.  He did, however, remind me multiple times before leaving the hospital that if at Aron’s next check up his bilirubin levels had not dropped, then formula would be my best bet.

There are many treatments for jaundice, depending on the severity of the condition.  In Aron’s case, the day we went home from the hospital, a medical supplier brought us a bili blanket, a  portable phototherapy device.  To use it, we were instructed to lay Aron on top of it, in just his diaper, while it was on and swaddle it and him together.  The hardest part about this arrangement was that we were supposed to leave him lying on the bili blanket as much as possible, so we couldn’t carry him around as much as we would have liked to at that time.

Other than that I just tried to nurse him as much as he would take.  I had read about the benefits of nursing on jaundice when we came home.  Turns out that breastmilk


  • Nurse your baby as much as possible, ideally at least 8-12 times daily(breastmilk helps eliminate bilirubin since it helps them have more frequent stools)
  • Know your baby’s feeding cues, so you don’t miss an opportunity for a feeding
  • Make sure your baby has a proper latch and gets a full feeding at each nursing session
  • Do not supplement with sugar water
  • Remember that nothing about your breastmilk is bad for baby
  • Trust your Mommy instinct, but if things worsen don’t hesitate to speak to a lactation consultant and your doctor

When Aron went in a few days later, his bilirubin had dropped enough so that we could discontinue use of the bili blanket, but they were not low enough to put him in the clear.  For his first week or so of life, my main focus was on nursing him as often as he liked and as often as he would accept a feeding.  At his next appointment, he was cleared completely of any signs of jaundice and I was happy that I had listened to my maternal instincts.  

While I’m certainly not advocating for anyone to ignore a doctor’s diagnosis and advice, I am suggesting that you don’t always have to squash your gut feelings just because a doctor is advising something different from what you feel is right.  God gave us those instincts for a reason!

For more information on newborns with jaundice and breastfeeding:

Ask Dr. Sears

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  1. thanks for sharing this! My second had jaundice and was told the same thing. unfortunately I listened.

  2. my second had BAD jaundice. she was literally completely orange. I wish i could show you. I am so thankful that my Dr suggested that I nurse A LOT and put her near a window A LOT. Get as much sunlight as possible and nurse as much as possible. I was surprised to hear how many other had been referred to formula. I had a nurse come to the house 2x to check her blood. This was all through the health dept. of our county too. She was fine in about a week and a half, each day it got a little better.

  3. Excellent post, and good for you for following your Mommy Instinct!
    I found this post through the Modest Mom’s link up where I’m sharing two posts on extended breastfeeding.

  4. Great advice, Dusty. I’ve nursed all six of mine and loved it. Mama’s milk is the best thing for the babies!

  5. Well, my baby had jaundice, and my doctor said that the best medicine is morning sunshine and mother’s milk. I’m not against formula, my brother was fed on formula, also my niece and my nephew, and my baby when I need a break from breastfeeding, but I believe that if a mother can breastfeed, then she should.

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    LeeAnne, Style N Season

  6. All 5 of my babies had some form of jaundice and the advice with the first 4, and in the beginning with #5, was to nurse, nurse, nurse. With #5, he had to be readmitted to the hospital and put “under the lights”. I stayed overnight and nursed him on demand and pumped for supplementation. His levels dropped and he came home 24 hours later. The doctor and myself assumed his numbers would stay low, but they quickly climbed back up. That was when I was told about “breastmilk jaundice”. Apparently, there is a hormone in the milk that was preventing my son from removing the bilirubin on his own. I was told to switch to formula for 24 hours and then I could resume. Like you, I was immediately hesitant, as I had never heard of any such thing. However, I went home and researched it and while I found a few that had managed to get through without doing the 24 hour formula feeding, overall, most were saying it was legit and it worked. After praying about it and feeling comforted that it was necessary at this time, I decided to go ahead and do it. I pumped during that time and froze the milk and counted the minutes until we could return to nursing. Sure enough, after the 24 hours on formula, his levels quickly returned to normal and we returned to nursing. He has not had a drop of formula since that day. I am just sharing this so that other moms know that there actually is such a thing as breastmilk jaundice and that contrary to everything else we know, in that case, nursing can be the cause and not the solution.

    The Happy Wife/Danielle Garcia
    Ldsmom2201 (at) yahoo (dot) com
    Twitter: The_Happy_Wife

    • Thanks for the information. I had heard of breastmilk jaundice, but didn’t address that here since my son just had the “regular” type of jaundice and a mild case. It’s always important to listen to your instincts, so I’m glad that you did what you did to help your little one! Thanks for stopping by!

  7. My second is just now 2 weeks old and had pretty sever jaundice to the point where she had to stay an extra night in the hospital and then come home with a bili bed for several days. I did end up supplementing some ( I am one of those few women who doesn’t get milk despite BF and pumping every 2-3 hours, eating, drinking, and taking all the herbal supplements… I’m desperate and about to try reglan, but that’s another story…) anyhow my ped (not the ped who saw us in the hospital) told me that about 95% of exclusively bf infants have some degree of jaundice (obviously not all requiring phototherapy) which has led some doc/researchers to question if there is some protective benefit to mild jaundice since bf is how our bodies were designed to feed our babies. Thought that interesting
    Visiting from my joy filled

  8. Hi Dusty,

    I too told the Dr. what he could do with their formula! A trick an elder pediatrician taught me was to place your baby by the window in the hospital (and at home) as much as possible. This does wonders for jaundice – much like your blanket did.

    Thank you so much for sharing your story. So many mother’s would take the doctor’s advice without investigating further. Breastfeeding is part of the plan – supplementing with formul is VERY rarely necessary!

    Thanks again,

    Mommy’s Playbook

  9. My little guy latched great the first time too, and we had a fine time nursing in the hospital. Sure enough, the day we went home, jaundice. I tried like crazy to keep breastfeeding but he was so lethargic he wouldn’t wake up for hours and hours. When we did nurse, my husband would have to tickle him to keep him awake, which usually led to a very upset baby. When we went into the pediatrician, he told us to supplement with formula. He’d lost 11 ounces. It broke my heart. I bought the smallest amount of pre-made formula I could and my husband gave him a bottle when we got home. As luck would have it, that was the day my milk came in. I was so engorged, I busted out my pump. After that first bottle of formula, we gave him expressed milk. 3 days later and his bilirubin counts were better and no longer needed to be watched. His color returned to normal, and by his second week check up, he’d gained all of his lost weight plus a pound. I knew I’d be pumping eventually, so I came to terms with bottle feeding him so early. Now, at a month old, we still occasionally nurse. 🙂

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