After a baby is born, and even before leaving the hospital or birthing center, he or she will undergo newborn health screening. The screening is simple, takes a moment to administer, and is an important part of your baby’s immediate medical care. Scary fact: more than 1 in 300 newborns will have a condition that is found through the screening process that may not be apparent at birth. But breathe easy: most babies with serious, but treatable conditions caught by the screening grow up healthy with expected development.

Why is my baby being screened?
Every state requires that all newborns are screened for at least 26 conditions at birth, and some states screen for even more. Many of these conditions are serious, and infants will benefit from beginning treatment immediately before it begins to adversely affect their health. For example, maple syrup urine disease (MSUD), a genetic condition which affects one out of every 185,000 babies born around the world each year, can cause developmental delays. Early diagnosis, which newborn screening provides, is key.

The baby will likely also be tested for congenital hypothyroidism, sickle cell disease, cystic fibrosis (CF), and severe combined immunodeficiency, among other conditions. All newborns will likely also undergo a hearing screening. If not, it is recommended that the child be screened within 3 weeks of birth.

How is the screening performed? When will I get the results?
Shortly after 24 hours of a baby’s birth, a few drops of blood are collected through a heel prick and sent to a lab for testing. If the baby has a negative result, parents are not contacted. If results are abnormal, then parents will be contacted so that the baby can undergo follow up testing.

Can I have a copy of the results?
Yes, if parents would like a copy of the results, they can request them. Talk to the baby’s pediatrician or hospital staff for more information.

Why do some states screen for more conditions than others?
The conditions that are included in the screening are determined by each state, although a list of certain conditions is recommended for all states. Every state screens for dozens of health conditions, and some will screen for more. If your state does not screen for a particular test, you can ask for additional screening. This is important if there is a family history of a particular disorder or if there is reason to believe the child may be at risk for a specific condition.

If you have questions about the newborn screening panel, talk to a pediatrician. You can also visit babysfirsttest.org, a website that helps parents understand the screening process. It includes state-by-state lists of what screenings are offered, as well as information about all the screenable conditions.