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Erin Walters

What Screening Tests Are Given to Newborns?

Before baby heads home with you, doctors typically run a few tests to make sure everything is okay. Here's what you can expect.

Medical staff usually performs a few tests to screen baby for potentially harmful or life-threatening (but mostly very rare) diseases before he heads home from the hospital, 24-48 hours after birth. This generally involves simply pricking baby’s heel to draw a few drops of blood, and testing his hearing with a tiny earphone.

According to pedatrician Jennifer Shu, MD, FAAP, every state requires different screenings. There is a suggested uniform screening panel of 31 specific conditions suggested by the Health Resources and Services Administration, but states aren’t required to test for them all. These disorders range from hypothyroidism to maple syrup urine disease (seriously). Differences vary by state depending on funding, laws, financial costs and availability of tests and treatments.

To find out which tests your state requires, head to the National Newborn Screening and Genetic Resource Center. Many of these tests can be run from that same sample of blood, so talk to your doctor about your family history and any tests that your state doesn’t routinely offer. Chat about the pros and cons of screening for certain disorders. Early intervention can make all the difference with some of these diseases—detecting disorders early can save your baby’s life or help him avoid mental disability.

Also, if you and baby are lucky enough to head for home after 24 hours or less, you may need to head back to the pediatrician within the next week or two for testing. (Many of these screenings need to be performed after the first 24 hours of life.) Above all, don’t stress about these routine tests—the disorders they screen for are rare, and if one does come back positive, there’ll be plenty of time to think about it then.

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Photo: Dana Ofaz