Newborn screening tests are one of the first steps in ensuring your little one has a healthy start in life. While it might seem overwhelming at first, understanding these tests can give you peace of mind. Let’s dive into what these screenings entail and why they’re so important for your baby’s health.
What are Newborn Screening Tests?
Newborn screening tests are quick, simple checks performed on babies shortly after birth. These tests aim to identify potential genetic, hormonal, metabolic, and other health conditions that may not be apparent at birth. Early detection means timely treatment, which can make a difference in your baby’s long-term health. You can expect the medical staff to complete all of these tests before your baby leaves the hospital.
Learn More: Your Newborn: What Happens After Birth
Common Newborn Screening Tests
1. Blood Test
- What It Involves: Usually within the first 24 to 48 hours after birth, a healthcare provider takes a few drops of blood from your baby’s heel.
- Purpose: This test screens for a variety of genetic disorders, including thyroid issues, sickle cell disease, and metabolic disorders.
What Conditions Are the Blood Test Screening For?
1. Metabolic Disorders: PKU (Phenylketonuria), Galactosemia, Maple Syrup Urine Disease, Medium-chain acyl-CoA dehydrogenase (MCAD) deficiency
2. Hormonal Disorders: Congenital Hypothyroidism, Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia (CAH)
3. Blood Disorders: Sickle Cell Disease, Thalassemia
4. Other Conditions: Cystic Fibrosis, Severe Combined Immunodeficiency (SCID), Biotinidase Deficiency
2. Hearing Test
The newborn hearing test, also known as a hearing screening, is a quick and painless way to check your baby’s ability to hear. These tests are non-invasive and will ideally be done while your baby is sleeping or calm. It only takes a few minutes per ear to complete the tests.
Types of Newborn Hearing Tests
1. Otoacoustic Emissions (OAE) Test
- How It Works: During the OAE test, a small earpiece is placed in your baby’s ear. It sends soft clicking sounds, and a microphone in the earpiece measures the echo produced by the inner ear in response.
- What It Detects: This test checks whether your baby’s inner ear responds to sound properly.
2. Auditory Brainstem Response (ABR) Test
- How It Works: For the ABR test, soft earphones are placed in your baby’s ears, and small electrodes are placed on their head. The test measures the brain’s response to sound.
- What It Detects: ABR testing assesses how the auditory nerve and brain stem respond to sound.
3. Heart Screening
Newborn heart screening, also known as pulse oximetry screening, is a non-invasive test that checks for critical congenital heart defects (CCHDs) in your baby. These are serious heart problems that are present from birth and can affect the structure of the baby’s heart and the way it works.
- What It Involves: Pulse oximetry sensors are placed on your baby’s skin (often the right hand and one foot) to measure the oxygen levels in their blood.
- Purpose: This test checks for congenital heart defects that might need immediate care.
Why Are These Screenings Important?
- Early Intervention: Many conditions found during newborn screenings can be treated effectively if caught early.
- Preventing Developmental Delays: Early treatment can prevent serious health problems, including developmental delays and intellectual disabilities.
- Peace of Mind: Knowing that healthcare providers have checked these essential health aspects can give you peace of mind about your baby’s good start in health.
What Happens After the Screening?
- Normal Results: If the results are normal, no further action is usually needed. You’ll continue to monitor your baby’s growth and development during regular pediatric visits.
- Abnormal Results: If the screening shows something unusual, don’t panic. It doesn’t always mean there’s a definite problem. Your pediatrician will conduct further testing to confirm any diagnosis.
Preparing for the Tests
- Consent and Information: Before the tests begin, the nurse will ask you to give consent. Feel free to ask any questions you may have.
- During the Test: While the heel prick might cause brief discomfort, the other tests are painless. You can ask to hold your baby skin to skin and/or breastfeed your baby during these screenings to help make it less stressful for your little one.
Newborn screening tests are a vital part of ensuring your baby’s health right from the start. As a new parent, it’s natural to feel a bit anxious, but these tests are straightforward and can be the key to early and effective treatment.
Hockenberry, M. and Wison, D. (2011). Wong’s Nursing Care of Infants and Children, Edition 9. pgs 253-255.
March of Dimes (2020). Newborn Screening Tests For Your Baby. Retrieved at: https://www.marchofdimes.org/find-support/topics/parenthood/newborn-screening-tests-your-baby