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The Importance of Newborn Screenings

Welcome to the world, baby! As a parent, you’ve counted ten fingers, ten toes and changed their first diaper. All seems to be going well until your nurse enters the room to prep your baby for their newborn screening. What’s going on here? Should you be concerned?

Whether you give birth in a hospital or birthing center, your baby will have a newborn screening performed within their first 24-48 hours of life. The tests performed vary by state, but each year, millions of babies in the U.S. are routinely screened to help identify conditions that could affect your child’s long-term health and survival. These tests are so vital that in 2014, former President Barack Obama signed into law the Newborn Screening Saves Lives Reauthorization Act to ensure newborn babies with deadly-yet-treatable, disorders are diagnosed quickly.

Ruben Espinoza, MD, a pediatrician with Banner Children's, discussed why screenings are important and what parents can expect.

They can save and improve lives

With one heel prick, your baby’s blood can help detect rare genetic, hormone-related and metabolic conditions that can lead to serious health problems. Done in the hospital, these screenings help doctors diagnose and quickly treat your baby.

“Having testing done early for certain conditions can help lead to improved outcomes for patients, as we are able to refer them for care as early as possible,” Dr. Espinoza said.

A great example, he said, is detecting hypothyroidism. “If congenital hypothyroidism isn’t detected and corrected within the first several weeks of life, your baby could end up with significant intellectual disability and slow growth. However, if treatment is begun within the first two weeks of life, infants have a high probability of developing normally,” said Dr. Espinoza.

Because nearly 3 in every 1,000 newborns have significant hearing loss, nearly all states also require hearing tests. Dr. Espinoza said if this hearing loss is detected early, infants are able to be referred to specialists to help guarantee the best possible outcome for their long-term hearing.

Which tests will your child need?

It will depend on what state you live in, but most tests include the following:

  • Hearing test
  • Blood test—screens for conditions, such as phenylketonuria (PKU), congenital hypothyroidism, sickle cell disease and maple syrup urine disease
  • Pulse oximetry test—measures oxygen in your baby’s blood and checks for a condition called critical congenital heart disease

What if the screening is positive?

Positive screening results aren’t necessarily a diagnosis; rather, they indicate that further testing must be done for confirmation. You’ll receive a call from your newborn’s place of birth, primary care physician or pediatrician to confirm the results and go over next steps. Upon confirmation, they will identify appropriate management and treatment options and may refer your baby to a specialist.

It’s important to remember that if your baby does have a congenital condition, early detection and treatment will give them the best chance to thrive.

Visit Baby’s First Test for more information on newborn screenings and to find out which conditions your state checks for. If you have any questions or concerns, reach out to your pediatrician.

Need help selecting a pediatrician? Watch this series of videos for things to consider and questions to ask when picking a pediatrician. Find a pediatrician near you at bannerhealth.com. 

Additional resources

Children's Health Primary Care Parenting Pregnancy