Maternity Preterm Labour

Celebrating World Prematurity Day with special jaundice blanket

Nurse Andrea Firmani demonstrates with doll how the Bili Blanket is used. Her 3 children were born at St. Paul's Hospital.

On today’s World Prematurity Day, St. Paul’s Maternity and NICU units are celebrating a recent acquisition funded by St. Paul’s Foundation.

It’s a portable, fibre-optic blanket that helps jaundiced newborns, including premature babies, get extra light therapy while they snuggle with Mom.  

The typical treatment for newborn jaundice is high-intensity phototherapy, in which the baby is placed in an incubator away from the mother.

Now, the Bili Blanket is serving as an adjunct to the standard incubator phototherapy. It offers continuation of the necessary light treatment when the baby is out of the incubator. The blanket means the baby can be taken out from the incubator for breastfeeding and cuddling while still receiving the light therapy.

“I would have loved to have the Bili Blanket when my son and I were in St. Paul’s NICU,” says Stefanie MacLeod, Patient Care Manager, Interventional Cardiology, Heart Rhythm services. Her son was born on World Prematurity Day in 2013, five weeks early at St Paul’s. He stayed in the NICU for 11 days. 

“One of the hardest parts for me was only being able to hold my baby every three hours when he was breast feeding. Then I had to quickly put him back under the light. I had read about how important it is for a baby’s brain development to be held and have contact with you so it was really hard to every time I had to put him back in there.”

With generous funding from the St. Paul’s Foundation, the hospital was able to buy the blanket, which has been in use on the Maternity and NICU Units for several months.

The Bili Blanket is so named to treat the abnormally high levels of bilirubin that some newborns develop. Their immature liver may not be able to handle all the bilirubin, a substance in the blood. But light exposure converts the bilirubin into a form that is more easily excreted.

Premature babies are more likely to develop jaundice than other babies because their livers may not be fully developed.  

The Bili Blanket’s advantages are numerous:

  • It allows for more skin-to-skin time between mom and baby.
  • It helps the baby recover faster, decreasing its time in hospital. 
  • Mom’s anxiety eases about having to watch the clock to ensure their newborn is back under the incubator lights within set time limits.

It increases phototherapy compliance. Some moms may remove an unsettled baby from the incubator but the blanket means that the therapy continues, even outside the incubator.

In 2015 to 2016, 226 babies, or about 14 per cent of those born at St Paul’s, had newborn jaundice. These tiny patients often required staying in hospital on average two days longer than those without the condition.

Submitted by Louise van Vliet , Interim Clinical Nurse Educator Maternity

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