One of the most common reasons a newborn is readmitted to the hospital is thanks to high bilirubin levels.
Bilirubin is released when red blood cells break down. Once broken down, bilirubin is metabolized in the liver. A newborn’s liver, however, is immature and may not be able to keep up with rising bilirubin levels. Instead of being excreted, the bilirubin builds up in the blood, causing jaundice. Jaundice causes the baby’s skin and eyes to have a yellowish hue. If bilirubin levels get too high, this can lead to brain damage, a condition known as kernicterus.
Your baby may develop jaundice after leaving the hospital, or the jaundice may worsen. Thankfully, high bilirubin levels can be detected by a simple blood test.
When a baby’s bilirubin level gets too high, hospitals often use phototherapy to lower the level. The baby’s skin absorbs these light waves, changing the bilirubin into a form that can be broken down and excreted.
While some babies may have to be readmitted to the hospital for phototherapy, others can be treated in the comfort of their own homes with a bili-blanket.
A bili-blanket consists of a fiber-optic pad and a light-generating box. The baby is placed on top of the pad with just a diaper on to maximize exposure to the skin. The more skin that comes into contact with the light, the faster the bilirubin will be excreted. The device should be left on when holding or feeding the baby. The baby should only be removed from the blanket for bathing.
Typically, if a baby has been given a bili-blanket, a nurse comes to the home every day to check on the baby and draw a bilirubin level. The pediatrician can then determine when it is safe for the baby to come off the blanket.
Some babies with certain risk factors such as prematurity or blood type incompatibility may not be candidates for a home bili-blanket as they need more intensive light and more frequent monitoring. However, bili-blankets are a great tool in some babies to prevent them from having to return to the hospital for admission.
- Bilirubin is produced when red blood cells break down.
- Some newborns can't metabolize excess bilirubin and may have high levels.
- Doctors sometimes recommend a bili-blanket to treat high bilirubin at home.
- This can help reduce the risk of going back to the hospital.