Recently, our newborn Hospital in the Home service expanded to include at home phototherapy for babies with jaundice.
Jaundice is common and occurs in about 60 per cent of newborn babies in Australia. It is observed as a yellow colouring of the skin and the whites of the eyes and usually begins to fade by the end of the first week after birth without any problems.
In the human body, new blood is being made all the time and old blood is being destroyed. One of the waste products when red blood cells are destroyed is ‘bilirubin’. Bilirubin is normally processed in the liver and is removed from the body in the urine and bowel motions.
For the first few days after birth, a baby’s liver is not fully working. It takes time to establish feeding so bilirubin can pass freely into the bowel. This means there can sometimes be a build-up of bilirubin in the blood and under the skin, causing jaundice.
Babies with severe jaundice may require phototherapy, which uses light to eliminate bilirubin in the blood. The light waves are absorbed by the baby’s skin and blood and change bilirubin into products that can pass through their system.
By offering this phototherapy service at home, parents have greater choice and flexibility about their baby’s treatment.
The At Home phototherapy service was used to treat two babies within the first two weeks of its implementation in June, and the service is expected to benefit more than 50 families in its first year of operation.
Baby Daisy was the first newborn to be treated under the At Home phototherapy program. Her mother, Lisa, was surprised at how easy and simple the process was.
“Being at home made it so much easier and more stress-free,” she said.
“It was nice to be in a relaxed environment, and it was particularly special to be able to have Daisy at home during her treatment.”
“Staff were all very friendly and helpful. Every nurse was caring and understanding of the fact that it was easier for me to have Daisy at home.”
All babies are at risk of jaundice but there is a higher risk for premature babies. Many babies with jaundice don’t need treatment but phototherapy is an extremely effective treatment when it is needed.
The time of phototherapy treatment varies, some babies only need it for one day, whereas others might need longer initial treatments. In some cases, such as for Daisy, babies will need multiple treatments.
The newborn Hospital in the Home service provides a clinical assessment of the baby and support to the family, with nurses visiting the family every day to check on the baby and how the treatment is progressing.