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Talk with Your Doctor about Newborn Screening

Content last updated on:
December 02, 2014

The Basics

Newborn screenings are tests that check for diseases or disorders in newborn babies. Most tests are done before your baby leaves the hospital.

Newborn screenings let doctors find problems early and start treatment to keep your baby healthy. They don't cause any harm or risk to your baby. 

Talk about newborn screening with your doctor or midwife before your baby is born. This can help you make sure your baby grows up healthy.

Check out these frequently asked questions about newborn screening.

What tests will my baby need?
All states require newborn screening. But the number and types of tests vary from state to state. Depending on your family health history, you may want to ask for extra tests.

Most newborn screening tests use a few drops of blood taken from the heel of your baby's foot. The same sample of blood can be used to test for many different diseases, including:

  • Hypothyroid disorder – The thyroid is a gland in the neck that makes hormones. Hypothyroid disorder can cause problems with growth and development, but it can be treated if it's found early.
  • PKU (phenylketonuria) – PKU means babies can’t process certain foods and must be fed special formula. It can cause intellectual disability (mental skills that are below average) if it’s not treated early.
  • Sickle cell disease – This is a serious blood disorder that can be watched and treated if it’s found early.

Hearing loss
A hearing test uses a small microphone or earphone to check how your baby responds to sounds. Finding out early if your baby has hearing loss can help reduce or avoid speech and language delays.

If your hospital doesn’t screen for hearing loss, make sure to have your baby’s hearing checked within the first month.

It's also important to have your baby's hearing checked regularly, since some hearing loss starts after the time when newborn screening tests are done. 

Heart defects
Heart defects (problems with the heart) can cause serious problems or death if they're not found and treated early. 

Testing for heart defects uses a small sensor that is placed on your baby's hand or foot. The test is painless and only takes a few minutes. 

Take Action!

Take Action!

If you are pregnant, talk with your doctor about newborn screening before your baby is born.

Find out which tests your hospital offers.
Ask your doctor or midwife about newborn screening. Find out which screening tests are offered at the hospital where your baby will be born.

If you aren't planning to give birth at a hospital, your baby still needs to get screened. Ask your midwife if she can screen your baby for you. Or, take your baby to a hospital or clinic to get checked a few days after birth.

What about cost?
Some newborn screening tests are covered under the Affordable Care Act, the health care reform law passed in 2010. Depending on your insurance plan, you may be able to get your baby screened at no cost to you.

Check with your insurance provider to find out what’s included in your plan. For information about other services for children that are covered by the Affordable Care Act, visit HealthCare.gov.

If you don’t have insurance, you can still get medical care for yourself and your baby. Call one of the toll-free phone numbers below to connect with the health department in your area. Ask about free care.

  • For information in English, call 1-800-311-BABY (1-800-311-2229).
  • For information in Spanish, call 1-800-504-7081.

Follow up.
Ask the doctor when you will get your baby’s test results. Some tests may need to be repeated after 1 or 2 weeks, especially if you leave the hospital before your baby is 24 hours old. Make a plan with your doctor.

Schedule well-baby checkups.
Most babies have their first checkup 2 to 3 days after coming home from the hospital. A well-baby visit is when you take your baby to the doctor for a full checkup. This is different from other visits for sickness or injury.

Find out why well-baby visits are important for keeping your child healthy.

Start building your child’s health record now.
Keep track of your baby’s test results and shots. Put medical information in a safe place – you will need it for child care, school, and other activities.

Your family’s health history is an important part of your baby’s health record. Use this family health history tool to keep track of your family’s health. Keep a copy with your baby’s other health information.

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