Newborn screening saves lives

September 4, 2019

Before your baby leaves the hospital, he has some special tests called newborn screening. Newborn screening looks for rare but serious and mostly treatable health disorders. It includes blood, hearing and heart screening.

Babies with these disorders often look healthy, but if the condition is not diagnosed and treated early, a baby can develop lasting physical problems or intellectual disabilities, or may even die.

When is newborn screening done?

Newborn screening is done before your baby leaves the hospital, at 1 or 2 days old. Some states require that babies have newborn screening again, about 2 weeks later.

If your baby is not born in a hospital, talk to your baby’s provider about getting newborn screening at 1 or 2 days of age.

How is newborn screening done?

Newborn screening is done in 3 ways:

  1. Your baby’s provider pricks your baby’s heel to get a few drops of blood. The blood is collected on a special paper and sent to a lab for testing. The lab then sends the results back to your baby’s health provider.
  2. For the hearing screening, your provider places a tiny, soft speaker in your baby’s ear to check how your baby responds to sound.
  3. For heart screening, a test called pulse oximetry is used. This test checks the amount of oxygen in your baby’s blood by using a sensor attached to his finger or foot. This test is used to screen babies for heart conditions called critical congenital heart defects (also called critical CHDs). Critical CHDs are the most severe heart defects. Babies with these conditions need treatment within the first few hours, days or months of life. Without treatment, critical CHDs can be deadly.

How many health conditions should your baby be screened for?

The March of Dimes would like to see all babies in all states screened for at least the 35 health conditions recommended by the federal government. Many of these health conditions can be treated if found early. Each state decides which tests are required. Ask your baby’s provider which tests your baby will have. You also can visit to find out what conditions your state tests for.