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Years ago it was noticed by an astute nurse that babies near the window of the nursery did not seem to become as yellow with newborn jaundice as the other babies in the nursery. From this simple observation came the principle of phototherapy. Newborns with moderately severe jaundice are placed under powerful florescent lights which are designed to emit light at a specific wavelength which is known to break down the bilirubin molecule. This molecule is converted from the toxic, fat soluble form which can enter and damage the baby's brain tissues to a harmless, water soluble form which is excreted in the urine and stool more readily.
Phototherapy used to be mainly conducted in the hospital setting. Now there are a number of portable phototherapy devices that make home therapy easy and safe. In addition to being much cheaper to accomplish, this form of therapy is much more conducive to maintaining breast feeding and normal mother-infant interactions. A home therapy nurse can visit the baby's home, draw a daily bilirubin level, and therapy can be monitored.