Green light for blue light blankets

Thanks to a successful pilot study at Evelina London, newborn babies who are affected by jaundice could soon be treated at home with a special light-up blanket.

Between May 2017 and May 2018, 10 babies with jaundice were discharged with a portable phototherapy device, called a biliblanket. The team found that the device was safe, cost effective and welcomed by parents who were able to bond with their newborns in the comfort of their own home.

Biliblaket[Image: Freya, left, with the Billiblanket and Megan, right]

Jaundice is a common condition that causes yellowing of the skin and the whites of the eyes, affecting around 60% of newborns and 80% of babies born prematurely. It is caused by the build-up of bilirubin in the blood, a yellow substance produced when red blood cells, which carry oxygen around the body, are broken down. Babies with very high levels of bilirubin risk developing permanent brain damage if they are not treated.

Dr Gosia Radomska, Neonatal Associate Specialist at Evelina London, explains:

One of the most common ways to treat jaundice is with phototherapy, which involves placing the baby under a therapeutic blue light in an incubator.
We have found that babies who are strong, growing and are otherwise healthy are suitable for home phototherapy treatment. This means families can stay together and go home sooner, while freeing up beds and cots in the hospital.

The treatment is now being used routinely by the maternity team at St Thomas’ Hospital, which is co-located with Evelina London. Babies are considered for home treatment if they have been receiving phototherapy on the postnatal ward for at least 48 hours, have stable or falling bilirubin levels and are able to feed. Parents are trained to use the biliblanket and an outreach nurse from the neonatal unit visits them daily to test the baby’s bilirubin levels.

Dr Radomska said:

Home phototherapy treatment is not routine in the UK, but it could benefit more babies across the country if other hospitals considered treating babies in this way, with the right training and safety measures in place for parents. The outreach nurses are also absolutely key to making this a success.
Our team is due to present the study results to the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health conference in May. They have already presented data to the British Association of Perinatal Medicine in September 2018 and at a conference in Paris.

Our vision is to bring together and build on the extensive strengths of King’s Health Partners to create an Institute of Women’s and Children’s Health that will improve outcomes for women and children in our local area, nationally and internationally. 

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