Blue-light blankets for newborns with jaundice ‘just as effective as hospital treatment’

Newborn babies with jaundice are being wrapped in a £3,000 light-emitting blanket to enable them to be treated at home.

A trial at Evelina London children’s hospital found the blankets were as effective as placing babies under a special light in a hospital cot.

The lit-up blanket avoids the distress of a newborn remaining in hospital and allows parents to start bonding at home. It also saves the NHS the cost of neonatal inpatient care.

Jaundice, a common condition affecting six in 10 newborns, causes the skin and white of the eyes to yellow due to the build-up of bilirubin in the blood. It usually clears with a fortnight of light therapy but very high bilirubin risks causing brain damage if untreated. 

Zoe Wingfield, 41, from Battersea, was one of the first mothers to trial the “bilisoft” blanket when her twin daughters Freya and Megan were born six weeks early in May 2017. 

Both twins received hospital treatment for jaundice but Freya required further phototherapy, so Ms Wingfield and partner Jon Shaw were given a portable light-emitting blanket. 

Ms Wingfield said: “I had been in hospital for over a week before the girls arrived and then a further week once they were born, so it felt like I had been there forever.

“We couldn’t wait to get home, so being able to take them together made a huge difference. The support we received was amazing and we felt confident treating Freya at home because we had used the biliblanket on the ward with Megan.” 

The latest version, the bilisoft, costs £3,000. The blanket, which is returned to the hospital after use, has a “glowing cushion” that is placed next to the skin, with the baby then swaddled or placed in a babygro. Treatment can continue during breastfeeding.

Home treatment normally lasts about three days and parents are supported daily by an outreach nurse. The study, which involved 10 babies, found the blanket was safe, cost-effective and welcomed by parents. 

Dr Gosia Radomska, neonatal associate specialist at Evelina London, said: “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 the standard at the Evelina’s sister hospital, St Thomas’. Infants are considered 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.

Evelina London medics are due to present the study to the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health ­conference in May. 

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.”


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