Most states screen for at least 29 rare but serious health conditions (Maryland screens for more than 50) with a simple heel prick test conducted when babies are 24-48 hours old. Public health labs process 97% of screening tests for four million newborns every year.
Newborn screening is a quick and safe way to protect babies from certain diseases and medical conditions. Although screening is automatic when a child is born, expecting parents should discuss the test ahead of time with their OB/GYN, pediatrician, nurse midwife, or other health care provider. If treatment or additional testing is necessary, immediate follow-up is critical.
You’ll receive the results of your baby’s screening during his or her first visit to your pediatrician. Not all babies who have a positive (or “out-of-range”) screen have disease, but it is important to take these results seriously. If you receive a phone call from your state public health program or health care provider, make sure to have your baby re-tested immediately so he or she can get appropriate treatment and follow-up care if necessary. Early identification and early treatment is key to the success of newborn screening.
Newborn Hearing Screening
Another screening provided to all newborns tests their hearing. Early intervention for a baby with hearing loss is the key to normal speech and language development. Two types of equipment may be used to screen your baby’s hearing. One is called an otoacoustic emissions (OAE) test, which measures the response of the ear to sounds transmitted by a small probe inserted into your baby’s ear. The other is called an auditory brain stem response (ABR) test, which measures the response of the brain stem to clicking sounds transmitted by a small earphone inserted into your baby’s ear. Both tests are completely painless and can be done while your baby is asleep.
Please remember that the test performed at the hospital is only a screening. Some babies with normal hearing at birth may develop hearing loss later due to a number of factors. Some of the risk factors for later onset hearing loss include family history of hearing loss, illness, injury, and certain medications. Use a hearing checklist as a guide for normal hearing, speech, and language development. If you have any concerns your baby should have his or her hearing tested by an audiologist.