What’s a newborn screening and why is it important? Here is an overview of the tests that babies undergo after birth and what the tests can identify.

What is a newborn screening?

Newborn screening is a state public health service that reaches each of the more than 4 million babies born in the United States every year. It ensures that all babies are screened for certain serious conditions at birth, and for those babies with the conditions, it allows doctors to start treatment before some of the harmful effects happen. Every baby born in Tennessee will have a newborn screen.

How is the screening done?

Newborn screening is usually performed at 24 hours after birth and, in most cases, while you are still in the hospital. Newborn screening is a three-part screen. Each part of the screen is done on EVERY baby.

The first part of the newborn screen consists of the blood spot, which is collected by a simple heel stick. Many times it’s done at older than 24 hours of age, but in special circumstances it may be done earlier.

The second part of the newborn screen is the pulse oximetry screening for critical congenital heart disease. This part screens for seven potential heart defects by measuring how well oxygen is getting into your baby’s blood.

The third part of the newborn screen is the hearing screen, which is usually done just before your baby goes home. Your baby will sleep quietly during the hearing screen, which looks for a response from your baby's brain to a soft clicking sound.

Why is it important?

All babies are screened, even if they look healthy, because some medical conditions cannot be seen by just looking at the baby. Finding these conditions soon after birth can help prevent some serious problems, such as brain damage, organ damage and even death. MOST babies will get a normal test result. For a FEW babies, newborn screening will make all the difference in the world.

What kind of conditions can be identified in a newborn screening?

Cystic fibrosis, Sickle Cell Disease/ trait, congenital hypothyroidism, galactosemia, critical congenital heart disease (CCHD) and congenital hearing loss just to name a few. For a complete list by state, visit babysfirsttest.org. Here is newborn screening information from the state of Tennessee.

What happens if the screening is positive for something?

Newborn screening is just that: a screen. So, if there is something abnormal detected on the screen, it is usually repeated. Once that abnormal value is confirmed it is then referred to a local metabolic specialist for further testing. For critical congenital heart disease (CCHD), they are referred to a cardiologist for further testing, and for hearing they are referred to an audiologist.

Here is a newborn screening guide (PDF GUIDE) from the Genetics team at Le Bonheur. The guide was funded by Baby’s First Test (Genetic Alliance).