What Is A Newborn Screening Test?

newborn test. Cultura Asia/Wonwoo Lee/Taxi Japan/Getty

At exactly 24 hours after your baby is born, she will be whisked away by medical professional for the final test that she will need to pass before you can take her home -- the newborn screening test. 

But exactly is the newborn screening test and why does your baby need it?

The newborn screening test is actually several different tests in one. The first test is a blood test that screens for different, rare disorders.

At exactly 24 hours of age (or as close to the 24-hour mark as your nurse can get it), a nurse or other medical professional will prick the side of your baby's heel with a small razor blade and take five samples of blood spots. The care provider will also usually ask you or the baby's guardian if you would like to donate any of the extra samples to be used for research, in the event that all of the samples are not needed to complete the test. Your permission does not affect the testing in any way and donating the samples is completely optional. 

The blood test screens for a recommended 50 plus different diseases and disorders, including:

  • Phenylketonuria (PKU). According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, PKU is a disorder that affects a baby's ability to process certain foods that contain phenylalanine, found in many protein-rich foods and certain sweeteners. PKU affects the baby's ability to process the ingredient and can lead to death. 
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Maple syrup urine disease. (Yes, this a real thing.)
  • Sickle cell anemia
  • Cystic fibrosis 
  • Glutaric acidemia type I
  • Severe combined immunodeficiences

For a full list of all of the recommended screening tests, click here. The other testing done as part of the newborn screening panel include a check of the baby's bilirubin level (high bilirubin is what causes jaundice) and a hearing screen.


How will I know if there's something wrong with my baby?

If your baby has a high level of bilirubin or fails his hearing test on one or both ears, your care provider will let you know in the hospital and discuss appropriate follow-up care and treatment. The blood test part of the newborn screen, however, has to be shipped out to a lab for processing and your baby's doctor or pediatrician will call you with the results if there is a problem. 

What if my baby was not born in the hospital?

If your baby was not born in the hospital, you will need to take him or her to the hospital or an appropriate clinic to have the testing done as soon as possible after birth. You can see what screening is mandatory in your state here


Newborn Screening, NCBDDD. The Centers For Disease Control and Prevention. Accessed December 13, 2014: http://www.babysfirsttest.org/newborn-screening/the-recommended-uniform-screening-panel. 

Discretionary Advisory Committee on Heritable Disorders in Newborns and Children Recommended Uniform Screening Panel. U.S. Department of Human and Health Services (April 2013). Accessed December 13, 2014: http://www.hrsa.gov/advisorycommittees/mchbadvisory/heritabledisorders/recommendedpanel/index.html. 

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