Recently I answered a reader’s letter about newborn jaundice.
I’ve had a few more enquiries so it seemed like a good idea to write about it in more detail.
Jaundice is a common condition affecting about six out of 10 newborn babies but only one in 20 need treatment.
Mild cases will usually clear up naturally within a week. It results in the skin and whites of the eyes turning yellow and it’s due to the build-up of bilirubin in a newborn baby’s blood.
Bilirubin is a pigment in bile and when a baby is first born its immature liver can’t handle it so it builds up in the blood and then stains the skin. If left untreated in rare cases it could cause brain damage.
The jaundice usually clears up in a couple of days with light therapy in hospital.
A new invention, however, means babies can be treated at home by being wrapped in a light-emitting blanket.
The lit-up blanket avoids the distress of a newborn remaining in hospital allowing parents to start bonding at home.
A trial at Evelina London Children’s hospital has found the blankets are as effective as placing babies under a special light in a hospital cot.
Dr Gosia Radomska, neonatal specialist at Evelina London, said: “One of the most common ways to treat jaundice is with phototherapy, which involves placing the baby under a therapeutic blue light in an incubator.
“We have found that babies who are strong, growing and are otherwise healthy, are suitable for home phototherapy treatment.
“This means families can stay together and go home sooner, while freeing up beds and cots in the hospital.”
The latest version, the BiliSoft, costs £3,000 but has been donated to the hospital.
The blanket, which is returned after use, has a “glowing cushion” that is placed next to the skin, with the baby then swaddled or placed in a babygrow.
Treatment can continue during breastfeeding and home treatment normally lasts about three days.
Parents are visited daily by an outreach nurse. The study, which involved 10 babies, found the blanket was both safe and cost-effective.
The treatment is now standard at the Evelina’s sister hospital, St Thomas’, for babies who have been receiving phototherapy on the postnatal ward for at least 48 hours, have stable or falling bilirubin levels and are able to feed.
Dr Radomska said: “Home phototherapy treatment is not routine in the UK, but it could benefit more babies across the country if other hospitals considered treating them in this way, with the right training and safety measures in place for parents.
“The outreach nurses are also absolutely key to making this a success.”