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
- 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
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