Congratulations on the birth of your newborn baby! This is such an exciting yet stressful time for all new parents. Upon welcoming your newborn into the world, it’s important that you and your doctors are able to tell how healthy they are, and so this is where newborn screening is incredibly important.
What is newborn screening?
Most babies are healthy when born, so this is simply just a precaution. The process of screening is broken down into three parts:
- The physical examination
- The hearing screening test
- The blood spot (heel prick) test
The tests are quick and easy and won’t harm your baby, but you can opt out of them if you wish.
The physical examination
Within the first 72 hours of your baby’s life, you will be offered a thorough physical examination of your baby. This is to check their development and find out if they have any problems with their eyes, heart, hips or testicles (in boys).
Although the exam won’t cause your baby any pain, there may be some moments where your baby is uncomfortable. Your doctor, nurse or midwife carrying out the examination should talk you through all that’s involved and you will always be present whilst the examination takes place, so there’s nothing to worry about.
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The hearing screening test
The hearing screening test is usually offered before you are discharged from hospital but will take place within the first few weeks of your baby’s life and will determine whether they have any hearing loss problems.
Babies that develop hearing problems can then have difficulties with developing language, speech and communication skills so identifying this problem early can help to support the development of these skills.
The test will only take a few minutes, and in some cases if the reading is unclear, a second test will be done, however, if you’re baby requires a second test, this doesn’t necessarily indicate that there is a problem but could be related to them being restless during the first test.
The blood spot (heel prick) test
Once your baby is five days old, they will be offered the blood spot test to determine whether they have one of nine rare health conditions. This test simply involves a special device that will prick your baby’s heel and allow your nurse or midwife to collect four drops of blood.
Although you can decline the test if you like, the benefit of the test allows you to identify if your baby has any of the following life-threatening conditions:
- Sickle cell disease
- Cystic fibrosis
- Congenital hypothyroidism
- Inherited metabolic diseases
You should receive the results from your doctor by the time your baby is six to eight weeks old, but they may ask to take a second blood sample for further testing.
Although the heel prick test can be uncomfortable for your baby, you can help keep them calm by cuddling them, keeping them warm and feeding them whilst your health professional takes the blood sample.