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Screening for Newborn Babies

Dr Roger Henderson
Reviewed by Roger HendersonReviewed on 29.04.2024 | 3 minutes read

After the journey of childbirth, there will be several screening tests and examinations that happen to your newborn baby to check that they are healthy and there is no risk of a long-term or potentially serious health condition.  These screening methods have been thoroughly researched and there is no harm that comes to babies as a result of them. Below is a breakdown of what to expect.

What happens at the physical examination?

Mothers of newborns in the UK are offered two physical examinations for their children. One occurs within the first 72 hours of birth, usually in the child's home and the other occurs within 6-8 weeks of birth, usually with your family doctor. These examinations are designed to pick up a wide range of conditions and diseases, from cataracts in the eyes, dysfunction in the hips, undescended testes, and heart disease, to name a few. 

What happens at the blood spot screening?

Between days 5-8 of birth, all newborn babies have a blood spot taken from their heel. This quick test is used to screen for many disorders. It is done soon after birth because early detection of these rare conditions is critical.

It is not a compulsory test, you can choose to have an individual test or none of them at all, but you will be given all the information to make an informed decision early as early detection could be life-saving.

If you opt out, you have until your child is 12 months of age to change your mind for all but cystic fibrosis, which can only be tested up to 8 weeks. The conditions screened for are;

  • Homocystinuria
  • Isovaleric acidaemia
  • Glutaric aciduria type 1
  • Maple syrup urine disease
  • Medium-chain acyl CoA dehydrogenase deficiency
  • Cystic fibrosis
  • Sickle cell disease
  • Congenital hypothyroidism
  • Phenylketonuria

Once completed, you will receive the results within the first 6-8 weeks.

What happens at newborn screening?

Parents are offered a hearing test, usually within the first 4 weeks of life. Commonly this occurs before your baby is discharged from the hospital, but if unable to be fitted in, it can also happen in the community once you are home. 

The test is called an 'Automated Oto-acoustin Emission (AOAE) screening'. A soft probe is placed into the baby's ears and noise is released. A machine detects the ability of the inner ear to respond by way of an ‘echo’. The test takes a few minutes and is completely painless. 

If the response is unclear, then they will be referred for further testing called an 'Automated Auditory Brainstem Response (AABR)'. This time electrodes are placed on the baby's head and devices are used to detect the response from the brainstem. This test is relatively quick and painless too but your baby must be awake for it. Any baby who has spent more than 48 hours in intensive care will be automatically referred for the AABR screening. 

Are all newborn tests safe?

Yes. There have been no reported adverse effects from the screening tests carried out on newborn babies. They are highly recommended as they can prevent potentially life-threatening conditions further down the line, and from a personal note, all of us here at Healthwords would recommend screening, and have partaken in it too!

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Dr Roger Henderson
Reviewed by Roger Henderson
Reviewed on 29.04.2024
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