Babies who are breast fed commonly develop jaundice caused by breast milk. It does not occur in bottle fed babies. Breast milk jaundice is harmless and will gradually disappear. It is safe to continue to breast feed.
Parents are frequently reassured that the cause of their baby’s jaundice is breast feeding and, as it is harmless, it will go away with time. The vast majority of babies will have breast milk jaundice but very few will have liver disease jaundice, or even both. It is therefore extremely important that this diagnosis is made by testing. Your baby should have a blood test called a split bilirubin blood test. This test measures the ratio of the conjugated and unconjugated bilirubin levels in your baby’s blood.
If the conjugated fraction is greater than 20% of the total bilirubin it indicates liver disease. Your baby should be referred to a specialist paediatric liver unit for further investigation.
Some babies who are breast fed may have jaundice which continues but the blood levels are normal except for a raised total bilirubin. In these cases the stool and urine colour are normal. A diagnosis of breast milk jaundice is often given. Breast milk jaundice is harmless and will gradually disappear. In a very small number of cases it may take a few months to disappear totally.
CLDF's experience is that most parents want to be reassured that the baby's bilirubin level is returning to normal. CLDF suggests that the serum bilirubin level (total bilirubin level) is measured weekly until the bilirubin level returns to normal. In cases where the jaundice takes a long time to diminish, the jaundice level can be tested further apart providing the trend is that the bilirubin level is reducing.
Please visit CLDF's main website to find out more about how the liver works.
Page last updated: January 2011