Sept 2018 Newsletter: Breastfeeding a Jaundiced Baby

By Nur Azrin Binte Abdul Wahab (BMSG Volunteer)

Nur Azrin, a mum of one, shares her initial struggle when she first started breastfeeding her jaundiced baby and how she persevered through the challenges.

Azrin and her beautiful daugther Azrah Adarina.

My pregnancy and birth were manageable with minimal to no issues. I was able to direct latch my baby immediately after I birthed her. The best part? My husband was also very supportive and encouraged me to breastfeed my baby. He even clapped when our baby girl burped on her own after latching. I was extremely grateful for this turn of events as I had been anxiously praying to have a smooth start to breastfeeding. It was beautiful in the hospital during my stay as the nurses and lactation consultants (LCs) praised my supply and how my baby girl had no pressing issues so far.

Unfortunately, the nightmare began the moment I was about to check out of the hospital. My daughter had developed a dangerously high level of jaundice, which caused her to have a fever. She had to be warded in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) and as a first time mother, I was at a loss and caved in to the hospital’s insistence that infant formula would reduce her jaundice. I was torn; a part of me wanted to continue giving my baby breastmilk while another part of me wanted my one and only daughter to get well as soon as possible as she was only three days old.

Upon reaching home, I continued to pump every three hours as suggested by my LC to keep up my milk supply. That same night, I received a call from the hospital that my baby girl did not want to drink or even have a sip of the formula milk the hospital was providing, not even through a syringe or a cup. However, the nurses told me to give it some time and that she would provide me with an update the following day.

Fortunately, she was discharged the next day in the morning at 8am with no fever. She was very hungry as she had drank very little the night before. I immediately latched her and, lo and behold, she latched like a champ for an hour. I wanted to cry because I knew deep down that she must have been extremely hungry.

A baby undergoing UV light therapy for treatment of jaundice. Azrin’s baby had to go through a similar treatment at the NICU.

We brought her home subsequently but her jaundice levels rose again on her third day at home, resulting in another episode of high fever. We rushed back to the hospital and the doctors said my baby girl and I had different blood types and that this was a case of breastmilk jaundice; it was suggested that I supplement with formula again to quickly bring her levels down. Knowing that my daughter was thriving on her breastmilk, judging from her healthy diaper output and very good latch as assessed by the LCs, I informed the doctor that I would like to continue to provide baby with breastmilk on demand. However, should her fever persists or gets worse, I will bring her back to the hospital and provide a supply of expressed breastmilk during her stay.

This time round, her fever did not subside as quickly as the first time and it took about three to four days before her fever went away. I latched her as much as possible and as much as she wanted to. I also carried her a lot so there was ample skin-to-skin contact between us. I did not feed her based on any sort of schedule but just waited for my daughter’s cues. I also noticed that her fever went down bit by bit after longer latching sessions so I picked up on that and latched a lot. However, I was extremely tired from it.

It was all good though because there was a follow up after a week from the second visit and by then her fever was completely gone. Although her jaundice level was still high, it was no longer in the danger zone and she didn’t need to be warded. We had follow-ups at the hospital once a month and by the third month, she was completely cleared of any signs of jaundice and was a perfectly healthy baby.

With God’s blessings, my baby girl has just turned a year old and has been purely on my breastmilk with direct latching. We’ve had no issues so far other than the fact that I was on oversupply. My goal is to continue breastfeeding her until she turns two. With my strong faith in my ability to breastfeed, I believe I can manage this. Because I fell in love with breastfeeding my daughter, I may just go beyond two years old.

I hope to inspire and create awareness to all mothers who are struggling or having issues to breastfeed. Don’t stop until your child wants to and is ready to. Believe in yourself and your ability to provide breastmilk for your child, especially if you are obviously making enough milk for your baby. If your baby is thriving on your milk, stand up for your right to breastfeed and trust that you are providing enough for your baby.