Learning About Phototherapy for Jaundice in Newborns

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Baby getting phototherapy for jaundice

What is phototherapy for newborns?

Phototherapy is a treatment for newborns who have a condition called jaundice. Jaundice is yellowing of your baby's skin and the whites of the eyes. It's caused by a pigment, or coloring, called bilirubin. While you are pregnant, your body removes bilirubin from your baby through the placenta. After birth, your baby's body must get rid of the extra bilirubin on its own.

Many babies have mild jaundice. It usually gets better or goes away on its own. This often happens within a week or two. But some newborns can't get rid of bilirubin as fast as they make it. It can build up and cause problems, even brain damage. Treatment with phototherapy can help get your baby's bilirubin to a normal level.

How is it done?

Phototherapy exposes your baby to a special type of light. When this happens, the bilirubin changes to another form. In this new form, the excess bilirubin comes out in your baby's stool and urine.

Your baby may need to stay under this light for several days. This treatment doesn't damage a baby's skin. But some babies may get a skin rash. Hospital staff will keep a close watch on your baby's skin and temperature. They will check your baby's bilirubin level at least once a day.

During phototherapy your baby is undressed. This exposes as much skin as possible to the light. Your baby will be kept comfortable and warm. The eyes are covered. This protects them from the bright light.

You can feed and care for your baby normally. If your baby is breastfed, you can keep breastfeeding. It's important that your baby gets plenty of fluid. Fluid helps remove extra bilirubin.

Another type of phototherapy uses a special fiber-optic blanket or a band. The blanket or band wraps around your baby. This type may be used for healthy babies with mild jaundice.

What happens at home?

Your baby may be able to be treated with phototherapy at home. If so, you will be shown how to use the equipment and care for your baby. Home therapy is only used for healthy babies who have mild jaundice.

A home health nurse may visit you at home to check on your baby and give you support.

Follow-up care is a key part of your child's treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor if your child is having problems. It's also a good idea to know your child's test results and keep a list of the medicines your child takes.

The Health Encyclopedia contains general health information. Not all treatments or services described are covered benefits for Kaiser Permanente members or offered as services by Kaiser Permanente. For a list of covered benefits, please refer to your Evidence of Coverage or Summary Plan Description. For recommended treatments, please consult with your health care provider.