Treatment is not needed most of the time.
When treatment is needed, the type will depend on:
- The baby's bilirubin level
- How fast the level has been rising
- Whether the baby was born early (babies born early are more likely to be treated at lower bilirubin levels)
- How old the baby is
A baby will need treatment if the bilirubin level is too high or is rising too quickly.
A baby with jaundice needs to be kept well hydrated with breast milk or formula.
- Feed the baby often (up to 12 times a day) to encourage frequent bowel movements. These help remove bilirubin through the stools.
- Ask your doctor before giving your newborn extra formula.
Some newborns need to be treated before they leave the hospital. Others may need to go back to the hospital when they are a few days old. Treatment in the hospital usually lasts 1 to 2 days.
Sometimes special blue lights are used on infants whose levels are very high. These lights work by helping to break down bilirubin in the skin. This is called phototherapy.
- The infant is placed under artificial light in a warm, enclosed bed to maintain a constant temperature.
- The baby will wear only a diaper and special eye shades to protect the eyes.
- The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that breastfeeding be continued through phototherapy, if possible.
- Rarely, the baby may have an intravenous (IV) line to deliver fluids.
If the bilirubin level is not too high or is not rising quickly, you can do phototherapy at home with a fiberoptic blanket, which has tiny bright lights in it. You may also use a bed that shines light up from the mattress.
- You must keep the light therapy on your child's skin and feed your child every 2 to 3 hours (10 to 12 times a day).
- A nurse will come to your home to teach you how to use the blanket or bed, and to check on your child.
- The nurse will return daily to check your child's weight, feedings, skin, and bilirubin levels.
- You will be asked to count the number of wet and dirty diapers.
In the most severe cases of jaundice, an exchange transfusion is required. In this procedure, the baby's blood is replaced with fresh blood. Giving babies with very bad jaundice intravenous immunoglobulin may also be effective at reducing bilirubin levels.