What is jaundice and phototherapy?

You may have noticed that your baby’s skin and the whites of their eyes were a bit yellow in the days after they were born. That yellow colour is caused by a waste product in the blood called bilirubin. 

Normally, our liver changes bilirubin into waste that our body can easily get rid of when we go to the toilet. But a newborn baby’s liver can take a while to get used to doing this. As a result, the bilirubin builds up in Baby’s blood, and it shows up as a yellow tinge in the skin. 

A baby’s jaundice level can be easily checked by the midwife or nurse. The best way to check to see if a baby needs treatment for jaundice is to measure the amount of bilirubin in Baby’s body. The first time we test for this is with a small handheld instrument that uses light to measure the bilirubin level in the skin.It’s an instant and very easy test,  and is painless. If this test suggests a high level of bilirubin, then we’ll need to take a blood sample.  Using a very small needle, we take a few drops of blood from Baby’s heel. This blood test is a more exact way to know if your baby needs treatment. 

Treatment is very easy and safe. It all happens using blue light from a special blanket that you wrap your baby in. The treatment is called phototherapy. ‘Photo’ means light, so ‘phototherapy’ is light therapy. The blue light shines through Baby’s skin. This changes the bilirubin into a form that Baby can get rid of more easily. 

We’d like you and your baby to be home together as soon as you’re ready, but there are a few boxes to tick to make sure that your baby can have phototherapy at home. 

Here’s the list: 

  • Your baby must be close to full term
  • They must be at least 48 hours old
  • Other than having jaundice, your baby must be medically well, and will be checked by the baby doctor to ensure they are suitable for phototherapy at home. 
  • You will need to speak to a nurse from the Hospital in the Home team
  • And finally, you’ll need to have a feeding plan in place for your baby. We’ll talk with you about this.

Important contacts

If you cannot get in contact with your visiting nurse or midwife, you can get advice from:

  • The Maternal and Child Health Line on 132 229 available 24 hours a day throughout Victoria
  • Nurse on Call on 1300 60 60 24 for advice

If there is an Emergency, please call 000


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The Women’s does not accept any liability to any person for the information or advice (or use of such information or advice) which is provided on the Website or incorporated into it by reference. The Women’s provide this information on the understanding that all persons accessing it take responsibility for assessing its relevance and accuracy. Women are encouraged to discuss their health needs with a health practitioner. If you have concerns about your health, you should seek advice from your health care provider or if you require urgent care you should go to the nearest Emergency Dept.

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