Newborn Screenings: What They Are and What They Really Mean

By Tracy Wright

The day has finally come—your baby is here. Warmly snuggled in his or her blanket, your newborn is perfect! But there are still some necessary screenings that your doctors and specialists will have to perform to make sure your baby is completely healthy.

Newborn screenings are necessary to help “identify serious but rare conditions at birth,” said March of Dimes. All babies born in the U.S. get screened but states differ on which types of tests they administer. This may seem scary, but most newborn tests come back perfectly normal. Even if something is found, the earlier it’s identified the better, as many conditions can be treated.

Most tests are performed within one to two days of a baby’s birth and can be done in a hospital or birthing center. Parents who opt for home births can either have a certified nurse midwife administer the tests at home or visit a hospital or clinic soon after birth. Parents do not have to ask for these tests to be performed; they are included in the paperwork you sign when you check into the hospital.

Hospitals perform various newborn screening tests checking for a variety of conditions. First, your baby’s blood will be tested by performing a heel prick to collect a sample of blood. Parents can request to hold their baby when this is being done to help comfort them. Results usually come back when the baby is about 5-7 days old.

The blood test will check for any number of conditions, which are included on the Health and Human Services’

Recommended Uniform Screening Panel. These conditions include organic acid and amino acid metabolism disorders which affect how babies process food and amino acids, fatty acid oxidation disorders which affect how babies convert food into energy, endocrine and hemoglobin disorders which affect hormones and red blood cells respectively, and other disorders like cystic fibrosis and spinal muscular atrophy.

Secondly, the hospital will test your baby’s heart for any congenital defects by using sensors and a pulse oximeter to determine how much oxygen is in their blood. Finally, two hearing tests are performed to determine if your baby has a hearing problem. An otoacoustic emissions test is performed in the hospital where your “provider places tiny earphones in your baby’s ears and uses special computers to check how your baby responds to sound,” said March of Dimes.

“When a baby has normal hearing, an echo is reflected back into the ear canal, which can be measured by the microphone,” said, a service of the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration.

The auditory brainstem response test is the second hearing test that assesses “the auditory brain stem (the part of the nerve that carries sound from the ear to the brain) and the brain’s response to sound. During this test, miniature earphones are placed in the ear and sounds are played. Band-Aid-like electrodes are placed along the baby’s head to detect the brain’s response to the sounds. If the baby’s brain does not respond consistently to the sounds, there may be a hearing problem,” according to


Parents can request additional screenings if there is a family history of certain types of medical conditions. Talk to your doctor or pediatrician about options for testing or for any questions about newborn screenings.

* If any tests have unexpected results, talk with your doctor about next steps.


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