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Jaundice in Newborns (Hyperbilirubinemia) - Treatment Overview

Most of the time no medical treatment is needed for jaundice in a newborn (hyperbilirubinemia). But watch for increasing intensity of the yellow tint in the skin and eyes or any change in your baby's behavior.

Babies who have bilirubin in their blood at a level that could be harmful need treatment. Whatever the cause, if the condition is not treated, excessive amounts of bilirubin in the blood may lead to brain damage (kernicterus), which could result in hearing loss, intellectual disability, and behavior problems.

The most common treatment for hyperbilirubinemia is phototherapy, which uses fluorescent light to help transform bilirubin into a form the body can more quickly eliminate. Standard phototherapy is usually done in a hospital. But babies with jaundice who are otherwise healthy may be treated at home with a type of phototherapy that uses a fiber-optic wrap, usually a blanket or a band. These wraps usually reduce blood bilirubin levels more slowly than standard phototherapy, so generally they are used only for mild jaundice. Sometimes standard therapy and fiber-optic wrap therapy are used together.2

If your newborn is receiving phototherapy for jaundice in the hospital, you can help by:

  • Asking whether you can stay in the hospital overnight so you can continue to care for your baby. If you are not able to stay, visit frequently.
  • Touching your baby often during phototherapy sessions in the enclosed plastic crib (incubator). You can reach into the incubator through specially made armholes on both sides of the incubator.
  • Talking or singing to your baby, because babies can hear through the incubator.
  • Holding your baby during the short periods when he or she is taken out from under the light.

The fluorescent lights used in phototherapy for babies with jaundice are not harmful if precautions are taken. Eye shields are placed over the baby's eyes to protect them while under the light. The shields are removed during feedings. Babies are accustomed to being in the dark after months in the womb, so the shields should not bother your baby.

If your baby is being treated at home for jaundice, be sure you understand how to use all of the equipment. Ask your baby's doctor for help if you have questions or concerns. You may need to take your baby to a lab each day to get his or her bilirubin checked. A home health nurse may visit to make sure all is going well.

If the baby's jaundice is being caused by an underlying condition, other treatments may be needed. For example, if severe jaundice is caused by the baby's body destroying red blood cells (blood type incompatibility), the baby may need immunoglobulin (IG). If that doesn't help, the baby may need to be admitted to a hospital and given a blood transfusion.

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WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: May 13, 2010
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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