Phototherapy is the process of using light to eliminate bilirubin, a substance that is produced when the liver breaks down old red blood cells. Physiological jaundice, caused by an elevated bilirubin level, is the most common cause of newborn jaundice and occurs in more than 50 percent of babies. Babies have an immature liver, so bilirubin is processed slower. An initial sign that your child might have jaundice is a yellow skin tone. Through phototherapy, your baby's skin and blood absorb the light rays and change bilirubin into products that can pass out of their body.
The length of time for phototherapy treatment can vary from one baby to the next, as each condition is different. Your health care provider will prescribe the amount of time your baby will need each day.
Most babies have phototherapy treatment for several days. Your baby's bilirubin level will be tested during treatment, usually by a small sample of blood taken from the baby's heel. These tests will determine when normal levels of bilirubin are reached and phototherapy is no longer needed.
Phototherapy in the home can be provided in multiple forms.
- Blanket - a pad that lays against a baby's skin. The biliblanket offers the highest level of therapeutic light available to treat your baby. This form of light is also found in sunlight. The strength of light from the biliblanket is about the same as you would get in the shade on a sunny day, yet is safer because it filters out potentially harmful ultraviolet and infrared energy.
- Bed - The infant lays in a special bed and light comes from below.
- Crib - A bank of lights that shine down on the infant while lying in a small bed.
Babies under any type of phototherapy treatment will have frequent and loose bowel movements that are sometimes greenish in color. This is normal since this is the way the body removes the bilirubin. This will be temporary and should stop when treatment is completed. Contact your doctor if it persists after treatment is completed.
Yes. Your hospital will outline the schedule for your child's treatment. However, the biliblanket can be used 24 hours a day for as long as necessary. With this convenient form of phototherapy your child can be diapered, clothed, held and nursed during treatment.
The skin in direct contact with the biliblanket pad is the first area where bilirubin is broken down. This breakdown process is not harmful; in fact, it contributes to the treatment of your baby and causes this portion of skin to turn to its normal color. As the treatment process continues, bilirubin is removed from the blood and the rest of the skin. As the bilirubin is lowered to acceptable levels, all of your baby's skin will return to its normal color.
No, only a small portion of the bilirubin is in the fatty tissue of the skin. The majority of the bilirubin is in the blood. The circulation of the blood will bring the bilirubin to the lighted area where it will be broken down. It is important that the plain lighted area of the covered pad, the area without writing, is against the baby's skin at all times during treatment. Clothing can then be applied over the system.
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