Fastening a tiny pair of sunglasses onto the baby’s face, I explained to the rather bewildered parents that their newborn would be receiving a special light treatment for his jaundice.
“What if he starts crying?” the worried mother asked me, a labor and delivery nurse at the time. “Can I pick him up?”
When a baby is treated for jaundice in the hospital, he or she is placed in an isolette to receive phototherapy, a special kind of light that helps break down the bilirubin that builds up in a newborn’s body, causing jaundice.
Although the treatment is very low-key, it still involves the baby being alone for extended periods of time, without the comforting reassurance of mom or dad’s arms. As a nurse, I’ve often felt bad for the babies receiving phototherapy, looking like they are in some kind of sad tanning booth.
The American Academy of Pediatrics explains that the majority of newborns are born with jaundice and while many cases of jaundice are not dangerous, the build-up of bilirubin can be incredibly toxic to some. Jaundice can actually lead to complications such as permanent brain damage and hearing loss and it’s especially risky in babies who are born prematurely.
Essentially, jaundice can be something that’s not really a big deal for babies or it can be something that is a really, really big deal.
But now, a new product called the SnugLit is hoping to change how babies with jaundice are treated, with a new swaddle blanket that would allow them to receive phototherapy — right in their parents’ arms.
Alexa Jones, from Lansing, MI, is the CEO of TheraB Medical and the woman responsible for the revolutionary new device.
After speaking to medical staff at Hurley Medical Center in Flint, MI about the limitations of current jaundice treatments, Jones and a team from Michigan State University decided to develop a product that would help parents make sure that their babies received the treatment they needed, in a more compassionate way. They spoke with close to 100 nurses and physicians across Michigan to develop the SnugLit.
The SnugLit is a portable infant swaddle blanket that allows babies to receive phototherapy while still being held by a caregiver, promoting crucial infant-parent bonding and allowing for other important interventions such as skin-to-skin care and breastfeeding.
The SnugLit is currently in development and awaiting approval by the FDA, but Jones has high hopes for the product to revolutionize jaundice treatment.
“Since 60% of babies born have some form of jaundice, almost everyone knows someone whose baby has experienced the condition,” she explains. “Unbeknownst to me until my mid-20’s, I was born with jaundice and was readmitted to the hospital for treatment — but my mother was not.
“Though it’s no surprise I don’t remember my own treatment, I have countless friends and colleagues whose personal stories and photos show the clear need for a new jaundice treatment that promotes closeness between infant and mother during the course of treatment.”
Jones notes that current jaundice treatments are “cumbersome,” with outdated technology that requires a wall outlet, making it difficult for parents to hold, bond with, and nurse their newborn.
“The major limitation of current treatments is the method of therapy delivery,” she says. “Infants are placed in an incubator wearing only their diaper and eye protection and the light is placed over top. The infant is left in this exposed condition except for the times needed to change diapers, feed, and perform other therapeutic measures.
“This unfriendly environment requires nursing staff to constantly monitor during treatment and dramatically decreases maternal-infant bonding and breastfeeding. In fact, the infant must be completely removed from jaundice treatment in order to eat or be held.”
While another method of jaundice phototherapy uses a fiber-optic tether to transmit light from a light box to an infant’s pad, Jones says those units are difficult to transport, along with not actually being attached to the unit, so it only treats a very small portion of the baby’s body.
In comparison, Jones believes the SnugLit works better for the needs of parents, babies, and hospitals alike, providing the benefits of:
- 360-degree coverage, allowing for complete treatment through the skin.
- Accessibility, allowing caregivers to freely feed, hold, interact, and bond with the baby.
- Portability, as it’s operated by batteries with a 4-6 hour run time, meaning the parents can use the blanket at home too.
- Convenience, as the staff and parents don’t have to constantly check if the pad is in the right place or move the baby if he/she needs other therapies while in the hospital.
“SnugLit provides a unique solution to overcome the limitations of current phototherapy devices,” says Jones. “Infants who are treated using SnugLit can be held and comforted, something not possible with conventional phototherapy.”
And if you think about it that way, more cuddling is always a good thing, right?
To learn more, donate, or find a SnugLit treatment near you, visit TheraB Medical.