Newborn screening tests are a public health service that can help identify any genetic, developmental or metabolic disorders in a newborn baby. These tests allow for measures to be taken before symptoms develop.
Screenings for newborn babies are performed using the following methods:
The blood test is usually the first test performed by hospital staff. For the blood test screening, the baby’s heel is sterilized and punctured to squeeze out a few drops of blood. The blood is then collected on an absorbent contact card and sent to a lab for analysis.
There are two methods used to perform a hearing test for newborn babies. The first is an otoacoustic emissions test (OAE). For this test, a tiny earphone and microphone are placed in the baby’s ear and sounds are played. The microphone will pick up an echo reflected back into the ear canal if the baby has normal hearing. If there is no echo detected, there could be a loss of hearing.
The second type of hearing test is an auditory brain stem response (ABR) test. The brain stem is the part of the auditory nerve that carries sound from the ear to the brain. An ABR test will measure the brain’s response to sound. Similar to an OAE test, a miniature earphone is placed in the ear and plays sounds. Electrodes are placed on the baby’s head to detect the brain’s response to the sounds. If there isn’t a consistent response to the sounds, this could indicate a hearing problem.
A pulse oximetry test measures how much oxygen is in the baby’s blood. This test is usually performed at least 24 hours after birth. To perform a pulse oximetry test, a sensor is placed on the baby’s skin for a few minutes which measures the level of oxygen in the blood through the skin.
Low oxygen in the blood could indicate a heart problem, called critical congenital heart disease.
Newborn babies are screened to detect disabling or possibly fatal conditions. Early screenings allow for treatment on these disorders to begin before symptoms or permanent damage occurs. There are several detectible conditions in a newborn screening. If these conditions are found, but left untreated, they could cause lifelong nervous system damage, intellectual, physical, and developmental disabilities and in some cases, death.
Newborn screenings happen within the first 24 to 48 hours after birth.
The only test that might cause your baby some pain is the blood test. Studies show that babies who are swaddled, being breastfed or who are held skin-to-skin during the blood test show less distress. Otherwise, the hearing and pulse oximetry tests should not cause a baby to feel pain, respond or cry.
Banner Health’s knowledgeable maternity and pediatrics staff is ready to answer any questions or concerns you may have about your baby’s first screening, at any time.