Newborn screening tests are essential for identifying conditions that pose a possible threat to a child’s health. Early intervention is key to limiting the negative impacts of certain conditions. Hospitals choose which tests to administer based on rules determined by each state. Common tests include the Apgar score, metabolic disorder screening, hearing tests, and screening for congenital heart defects.

Apgar Score

This is the first assessment a newborn will receive. It is given 1 minute after birth and again at 5 minutes after birth. Babies get scores of 0 to 2 in 5 areas. These are (A) appearance, (P) pulse, (G) grimace, (A) activity, and (R) respiration. Scores of 7 and above are considered good, and scores typically increase as the body warms and the baby acclimates to the new environment and regulates breathing.

Metabolic Disorder Screening

Metabolic disorders are genetic conditions that can cause physical and cognitive impairment. Four disorders newborns are commonly screened for are phenylketonuria (PKU), congenital hypothyroidism, sickle cell disease, and cystic fibrosis, though a physician may choose to test for additional problems.

These tests are usually done before the newborn leaves the hospital. A few drops of blood are drawn from the baby’s heel and sent to a lab. All the disorders indicated will be tested from the same sample of blood.

Hearing Tests

Hearing should be tested before the baby is 1 month old. The test is quick and can be done while the baby sleeps. Hearing loss can be genetic or caused by complications of pregnancy, but early testing can reduce the degree of loss. It is important to detect hearing issues because they can also cause speech problems and communication concerns.

Screening for Congenital Heart Defects

Congenital heart defects (CHDs) are checked with a pulse oximetry test before the newborn leaves the hospital. This test determines the level of oxygen in the baby’s blood which can indicate defects that can lead to death if untreated. It is a simple test that involves placing sensors on the baby’s skin.

Most essential newborn health screenings are easy and painless. They provide critical information that can prevent the development of serious issues, and they are an important part of a baby’s care plan.