A biliblanket is a portable phototherapy device for the treatment of hyperbilirubinemia. BiliBlanket is a trademark of General Electric's Datex-Ohmeda subsidiary. Like with other trademarks, its catchy name has become the generic, colloquial term for a range of similar products and that's the term used in the medical professions. The name is an obvious combination of bilirubin and blanket. Other names used are home phototherapy system, bilirubin blanket, or phototherapy blanket.
Phototherapy, in the context in which a biliblanket is used, is used to treat jaundice in newborns. Biliblankets offer the possibility of treating some degrees of jaundice at home as long as the baby is otherwise healthy. This makes them quite popular with parents, doctors, and insurance companies, who would otherwise have to pony up for inpatient treatment. Since the newborn does not have to be separated from its mother and doesn't need to lie by itself in a box with its eyes covered, it's a fair guess that it suits the baby, too. Now, it's not all fun and games since the mother or caregiver is tied to the machine, unless they can wheel it around, and there's still that stiff pad between mom and baby. Moms tend to hate it about as much as you can hate a lesser evil.
Phototherapy for jaundice involves a blue/white fluorescent light of varying intensity placed close to the skin or touching it through a special, light-permeable fabric. Apparently greenish light works best but consumers had problems looking at babies that were a sickly green.
The whole setup consists of the light generator, termed the light box, the fibre-optic cable through which the light is carried (you have to picture its bandwidth if you're a network tech) and the light pad, which is a 25cmx13cm (10"x5") pad that's attached to the baby. Home phototherapy is not dangerous and reports suggesting that babies have been burned by biliblankets have turned out to be myths.
- Ohmeda BiliBlanket
- The original line from the early 1990s. Its current incarnation is a pretty nice machine, sturdy and easy to lug about. The baby is attached to the pad using a paper harness. Wearing this blanket makes a child look like a little green alien if you're using a common yellow harness.
- Healthdyne Wallaby
- Older Wallabies are pretty heavy and quite noisy. On the other hand, the Wallaby does have a nice, long cable that gives mom and baby more freedom of movement. Newer models are comparable to the Ohmeda's newer versions and functionally they're pretty much the same. Healthdyne is owned by Respironics, better known for sleep apnea devices.
- Olympic Medical Bili-Lite Pad
- The Olympic is a meaner-looking device that does pretty much the same job as the above two machines, though it doesn't have a variable light level like the other two. Nice light but more primitive, simple design.
- PEP Home Bili Light
- This is not really a blanket but a suitcase-like device that basically condenses the whole phototherapy system into something easy to transport and deploy at home. Otherwise it differs little from what's used in hospitals. It delivers a more powerful light than the biliblanket's pad does but also necessitates protecting the baby's eyes. I haven't used one but I also wouldn't as long as I had the choice of using one of the first two models.
- Medela Bilibed
- Likewise, I haven't used this one but it shared the PEP's basic physical features. It too has the disadvantage that the baby has to be placed on it. The light here comes not from overhead but from underneath the surface on which the baby's placed. A special cover is stretched across the bottom pane and the baby lies on that cover. It really doesn't sound very comfortable.
Should you use home phototherapy? Well, your doctor will tell you whether you should or not but, if given a choice, I'd say take it. It makes everyone a lot happier than having a newborn in the hospital. Research indicates that there is no difference in the therapeutic effects of biliblankets compared to static hospital equipment. Local medical equipment suppliers will typically deliver the blanket and either arrange pickup or let you take it back when you're done with it. I'd recommend against buying one since acquiring a new home phototherapy system will probably set you back $4000 or more.