What You Need to Know About Newborn Screening, or the "Heel Prick" Test

Did you know that this month is Newborn Screening Awareness Month? I know it doesn’t sound all that exciting, but the universally-mandated newborn screening program has been incredibly successful in identifying treatable medical conditions in newborns, and it’s worth knowing about.

I got in touch with a representative for the American College of Medical Genetics and Genomics (ACMG) to ask some questions new parents might have about routine newborn screening, sometimes referred to as the “heel prick” screening, and here’s what I learned:

Will my doctor automatically run the genetic tests I need?

Because NBS is a state-mandated Public Health Program, this testing does not need to be ordered by your doctor. The screening test is automatically done in the newborn nursery*. However, both your prenatal care provider and your baby’s pediatrician will know which tests are part of the NBS panel in your state.

*If you have a home birth, you’ll need to find a pediatrician to do the test within the first week of the baby’s life.

How can I be sure I get the testing that might be beneficial?

Your baby will automatically receive all of the tests required by law in the state where you give birth. If your state has an “opt-in” policy, you need to be sure to sign the papers that allow the NBS panel to be run — this could save your baby’s life!

Why is it so important to do these tests so soon after birth?

Babies with these conditions appear healthy at birth but can develop serious medical problems in the first days and weeks of life. It is critical to treat many of these conditions before symptoms appear. If you are told that the results of the screening test show that your baby needs to be seen by a doctor or nurse, it is important to follow quickly the instructions that you are given.

The 3 most important things expectant and new parents need to know about newborn screening are…

1.  Newborn screening (NBS) is a universally-mandated public health program that screens all babies in the United States immediately after birth for certain medical conditions so that treatment can begin before the symptoms are present or your baby becomes sick.

2.  NBS has been called one of the 10 most successful public health programs of the 21st century, and it has saved the lives of many children.

3.  There is a core screening panel of 31 treatable conditions that have been recommended by experts in medical genetics and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS); many states test for even more conditions.


Ceridwen Morris (CCE) is a childbirth educator and the co-author of the pregnancy and birth guide From The Hips. Follow her blogging on Facebook.



photo: Robert Lang/Flickr

Article Posted 4 years Ago

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