Newborn screening: Your baby’s first tests

August 31, 2020

As you welcome your new baby into the world, you experience many important “firsts.” For your baby, this includes the first set of health tests, called newborn screening.

Newborn screening checks your baby for serious but rare and mostly treatable health conditions at birth. It’s done when your baby is 1 to 2 days old, before he leaves the hospital. If your baby isn’t born in a hospital, talk to his health care provider about getting newborn screening at 1 to 2 days of age.

All babies in the United States get newborn screening. About 4 million babies are screened every year.

Why is newborn screening done?

Your baby can be born with a health condition but may not show any signs of the problem at first. If a health condition is found early with newborn screening, it often can be treated. Early treatment is important, because it may help prevent more serious health problems for your baby.

What tests are done in newborn screening?

Newborn screening has three parts:

  1. Blood test. Most newborn screening is done with a blood test to check for health conditions. A health care provider pricks your baby’s heel to get a few drops of blood. He collects the blood on a special paper and sends it to a lab for testing. Results are usually ready by the time your baby is 5 to 7 days old.
  2. Hearing screening. This test checks for hearing loss. For this test, your provider places tiny earphones in your baby’s ears and uses special computers to check how your baby responds to sound.
  3. Heart screening. This test is used to screen babies for a group of heart conditions called critical congenital heart defects (also called critical CHDs or CCHDs). It uses a simple test called pulse oximetry. Pulse oximetry checks the amount of oxygen in your baby’s blood by using a pulse oximeter machine and sensors placed on your baby’s skin.

What health conditions does newborn screening check for?

Each state requires different tests. Almost all states do hearing screening before a baby leaves the hospital. All states now have policies that support heart screening for babies. The health conditions checked for in the blood test depend on your state’s requirements.

The Advisory Committee on Heritable Disorders in Newborns and Children sets national guidelines for newborn screening to help guide states in their screening programs. The committee recommends that all states check for 35 core health conditions listed in the Recommended Uniform Screening Panel (RUSP). 

You can ask your baby’s health care provider which tests your baby will have. You also can visit to find out what conditions your state tests for.

What if the results of newborn screening aren’t normal?

Most newborn screening results are normal. If your baby’s screening results aren’t normal, it may simply mean she needs more testing. Your baby’s provider then recommends another kind of test, called a diagnostic test, to see if there is a health problem.

If the diagnostic test results are normal, no more testing is needed. If the diagnostic test results are not normal, your provider can guide you about next steps for your baby.

Do the health conditions found by newborn screening run in families?

Many of the health conditions found by newborn screening are inherited. Inherited means something that is passed from parent to child through genes. Genes are a part of your body’s cells that store instructions for the way your body grows and works.

If you, your partner or someone in your family has an inherited health condition, the chance of your baby having the same condition is higher than if no one in the family has the condition. You can talk to your provider or a genetic counselor to learn more about inherited health conditions. A genetic counselor is a person who is trained to help you understand about genes, birth defects and other medical conditions that run in families, and how they can affect your health and your baby’s health.