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Semin Neonatol. 2002 Apr;7(2):135-41.

Breast-feeding, neonatal jaundice and kernicterus.

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Department of Pediatrics, University of Wisconsin School of Medicine, and Waisman Center on Mental Retardation and Human Development, Madison, Wisconsin 53705, USA.


Despite the many advantages of breast-feeding, there is ample documentation of the strong association between breast-feeding and an increase in the risk of neonatal hyperbilirubinaemia. Breast-fed infants have higher bilirubin levels than formula-fed infants. Suggested mechanisms for these findings include poor fluid and caloric intake, inhibition of hepatic excretion of bilirubin, and intestinal absorption of bilirubin (enterohepatic circulation). On rare occasions, breast-fed infants without evidence of haemolysis have developed extreme hyperbilirubinaemia and kernicterus. Because almost all of the cases of kernicterus reported in the last 15 years have occurred in fully or partially breast-fed newborns, it is important that these infants be followed closely. Appropriate support and advice must be provided to the lactating mother so that successful breast-feeding can be established and the risk of severe hyperbilirubinaemia reduced.

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