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Breastfeeding

Jaundice, Breast Milk

This article is an excerpt from "The Nursing Mother's Problem Solver" by Claire Martin.

Q: I thought breast milk was supposed to be best for babies. My pediatrician wants me to put the baby on formula because she says breast milk is causing my newborn's jaundice. How can my breast milk be bad for my baby?

A: There is a condition called breast milk jaundice, but nobody knows exactly what causes it. Breast milk jaundice occurs in 1 in 250 babies. Usually, jaundice is diagnosed in a baby between 5 and 7 days old. It's a common condition-40 percent of babies are diagnosed with some form of jaundice.

Jaundice is caused by a buildup of bilirubin in the baby's blood as the newborn's liver-whose job during pregnancy was handled by the mother-starts functioning on its own. Jaundice usually is resolved within a few days, with phototherapy.

Breast milk jaundice peaks between 10 and 21 days after birth and can last until 4 to 6 weeks after birth.

One way to diagnose breast milk jaundice is to temporarily wean the baby. If the condition is indeed breast milk jaundice, the bilirubin levels will drop in 12 to 24 hours. The levels rise again when the baby resumes nursing, although that's not really a problem-breast milk jaundice does not endanger the baby. Many pediatricians are recommending against temporary weaning as a diagnostic tool for breast milk jaundice, because it can lead to nipple confusion and to formula use by mothers who are groundlessly afraid that their babies will be harmed somehow if they continue nursing.

It is rarely necessary to stop breastfeeding a baby with breast milk jaundice. The jaundice resolves itself, even if you continue to breastfeed. Nipple confusion at this age is a real possibility. You may want to ask another pediatrician for a second opinion.

There are only two known medical conditions that may require weaning a baby from breast milk. In the first, the baby cannot process the amino acid phenylalinine. The phenylalinine builds up in the baby's body and can lead to serious developmental disabilities. However, the amount of phenylalinine can be calculated, and the baby's blood levels monitored, if you wish to continue breastfeeding. (It means extra work, but if you're determined, you can continue nursing.)

The other condition, which at this point does require weaning, is galactosemia, wherein the baby cannot process galactose, one of the components in lactose.

Newborns are tested for both conditions during the first few days after birth.


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About the Author

Claire Martin is a parenting writer at the Denver Post. Her writing has won national and regional awards, and has appeared in publications such as the St. Petersburg Times, Good Housekeeping, and Sunset magazine. She lives in Denver with her husband and two daughters, both of whom were breastfed.

From THE NURSING MOTHER'S PROBLEM SOLVER by Claire Martin. Copyright © 2000 by Claire Martin. Reprinted by permission of Simon & Schuster, Inc.

PAGS News

Pediatric Associates (PAGS) is pleased to announce that Mark Mandell, M.D. has joined the leadership team of Steward Health Care Network as their Chief Pediatric Medical Officer. Dr. Mandell has been a pediatrician at Pediatric Associates for over 25 years and will continue to see patients in both the Beverly and Salem offices.
If you are expecting parents or are looking for a new pediatrician, please join us for our "Meet the Pediatricians" nights.  They will be held at our Beverly Office at 30 Tozer Road on:
June 14th (6:30 pm)
July 19th (6:30 pm)

Dr. Morgan and Dr. McAuliffe are once again participating in the Bruins Beard-A-Thon. If you are not familiar with this, you pledge to grow your beard until your team either wins the Stanley Cup or is eliminated from the playoffs.

 

The Bruins have not made the playoffs the last two years so are beards have not made an appearance for several years now. Both have participated in the past to support the Bruins and Gail Wright who was one of the original PAGS front staff employees. She was a huge Bruins fan and passed away in May 2011 from Breast Cancer.

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