Newborn Screenings

Your baby will undergo several diagnostic tests in the first hours after being born.


Most moms-to-be have planned everything before baby arrives: The hospital bag has been packed, the baby's nursery is in order and birthing classes have been completed. However, despite their best efforts, those first hours after birth remain a blur for most women.

All babies born in the United States are checked for certain medical conditions soon after birth, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. All babies undergo this process called a newborn screening, "even if they look healthy, because some medical conditions cannot be seen by just looking at the baby. Finding these conditions soon after birth can help prevent some serious but rare problems, such as brain damage, organ damage and even death," the CDC says.

According to the March of Dimes, all states require newborn screening for at least 31 health conditions (up from 26) starting in 2013, with some states checking for up to 50 or more conditions. Ask your health care provider how many conditions are checked in your state.

Babies born this year will be screened for "genetic, metabolic, hormonal and/or functional conditions, including PKU (phenylketonuria) within the first hours of birth," according to a news release from the March of Dimes, which offers the following checklist for new moms:

  • The newborn screening starts with a blood test. Your baby's provider pricks your baby's heel to get a few drops of blood and then that sample is sent to the lab for testing.
  • Then, your provider will check your baby's hearing by placing a tiny soft speaker in your baby's ear to check how your baby responds to sound.
  • A heart screening follows with a test in which a pulse oximetry is attached to your baby's finger or foot to check the amount of oxygen in your little one's blood. This test screens for a heart condition called critical congenital heart disease (CCHD).

All the medical conditions are divided into five groups:

  • Organic acid metabolic problems: Babies with these problems don't metabolize food correctly.
  • Fatty acid oxidation problems: A baby with these conditions can't change fat into energy.
  • Amino acid metabolism problems: Babies with these problems can't process amino acids, which help the body make protein.
  • Hemoglobin problems: These conditions affect red blood cells, which carry oxygen to the rest of the body.
  • Other problems: This category includes cystic fibrosis, hypothyroidism and severe combined immunodeficiency (SCID), among others.

All states require a newborn screening to be performed on an infant, but most will allow parents to refuse for religious purposes. Some states require that babies have a newborn screening again two weeks later. If your baby is not born in a hospital, talk to your baby's provider about getting a newborn screening as soon as possible, or discuss your options with your certified midwife.

For more on what to expect, check out our Navigating your Hospital Stay page for tips on how to make the most of your post-delivery experience.