Jaundice is a condition that happens in some newborn babies. It makes the skin and eyes look yellow. It happens when your baby’s liver cannot yet break down a yellow substance called bilirubin (BILL-uh-roo-bin).
The treatment for jaundice is a light that helps the bilirubin break down. Your baby might lie under the light or be wrapped in a blanket that shines light on the skin. A nurse can show you how to use the light or blanket correctly. Call your child’s doctor or nurse if you have any questions.
How does light therapy for jaundice work?
Your child might have light therapy in the hospital, or you might do it at home. A doctor needs to prescribe light therapy, including how it is given.
Using an overhead light
- Undress your child, but leave their diaper on. Your child also needs to wear eye patches during light therapy.
- Make sure the light is the correct distance away from your child. Read the instructions and call if you have any questions.
- Adjust the temperature in the room to keep your child warm, if the light does not give off heat. Some do, and some do not. It is important to keep your child from getting too cold or too hot.
- Measure how much light your child is getting during treatment. The light usually has a way to measure this or a screen that tells you. It is important to make sure your child is getting the right amount of light, but not too much. Measure every 8 hours or if you change the position of the light.
Protecting your child’s eyes during light therapy
Make sure your child’s eyes are closed before you put on the eye patches. If your child needs light therapy for more than 4 hours a day, take the patches off for 5 or 10 minutes every 4 hours. Check to make sure your child’s eyes do not look red or irritated, or have fluid or mucus coming from them. If they do, call your doctor’s office.
You can also take the patches off just to make eye contact with your baby. This helps you bond with your child.
Using a blanket
Your child might have light therapy with a blanket that shines light on the skin. You might hear this called a fiberoptic blanket or “bili blanket.” The blanket goes inside a cover or vest. You can wrap the blanket around your child or lay them on it. Follow these steps:
- Put the blanket into the cover or vest so the clear side of the blanket is underneath the soft side of the cover. Your child will lie on the soft side, with the light shining on them through the cover or vest.
- Plug in the cable securely. This end of the blanket should go at your child’s feet.
- Lay the covered blanket on your child’s crib mattress or other flat surface. Place your baby on the blanket, with the tip of the blanket at their shoulders.
- Your child can wear diapers. They can also wear clothes over some types of blanket. Please call with any questions about what your child can wear.
- Put eye patches on your child if they are lying on their stomach, facing downward toward the blanket. They do not need eye patches if they are lying on their back, facing away from the blanket.
The blanket has a control that shows how bright the light is. Adjust this before you start your child’s light session. The biggest dot shows the highest setting, and the smaller dots are for less intense light.
Measure how much light your child is getting during treatment. The light usually has a way to measure this or a screen that tells you. Your nurse will show you where to find it. It’s important to make sure your child is getting the right amount of light, but not too much. Measure every 8 hours or as often as the nurse tells you.
Ask your child’s doctor or nurse if you have questions about light therapy for jaundice. We are always happy to help.
This document is not intended to take the place of the care and attention of your personal physician or other professional medical services. Our aim is to promote active participation in your care and treatment by providing information and education. Questions about individual health concerns or specific treatment options should be discussed with your physician.
St. Jude complies with health care-related federal civil rights laws and does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national origin, age, disability, or sex.
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