Newborn Screening: Why It Is Important

Most babies are born healthy but newborn screening tests will provide them with an extra layer of protection. This article looks at the different aspects, which are involved in newborn screening tests

By Dr P Siva Kumar

Newborn Screening: Why It Is Important

Every parent will want to ensure that their baby grows up to be healthy and free from any disease. After birth, your baby might look healthy but, unfortunately, any underlying medical conditions are not detected until the baby completes 3 weeks or 1 month.

However, today medical sciences are so advanced that babies can be diagnosed of several metabolic disorders within the very first 72 hours of their birth.

What is newborn screening?

Newborn screening is a group of blood tests which enable doctors to decide on appropriate interventions to be taken on a baby, even before symptoms of a medical condition are shown, helping in effective treatment of the disorder.

Unfortunately, many children in our country are exposed to diseases that will cause lifelong damage, disability ranging from mental retardation to physical disability due to lack of newborn screening. Babies who do not have any family history of disabilities and disorders can also be diagnosed with critical medical conditions. Hence, parents are mandatorily advised to get the newborn screening tests done within 48 hours of their child’s birth.

Due to limited understanding and knowledge of these tests, most parents do not volunteer to have the tests administered on their baby. Many parents are also of the opinion that they might have to subject their newborn to the perils of intensive screening process without understanding the relevance of such screening. 

How is the test done?

A typical NBS (newborn screening test) is conducted by pricking a baby’s heel to extract a small quantity of blood which is then screened to detect any abnormalities. This test may indicate a treatable medical condition. Another test is the hearing test which is conducted usually when the baby is asleep, using special equipment.

There are three steps involved in a newborn screening:

  • Heel Stick:

A few drops of blood are taken from the 12 to 48-hour old baby’s heel which is called as a heel stick. It is later sent to the laboratory where it is screened for different metabolic and genetic conditions.

Newborn Screening: Why It Is Important
  • Pulse Oximetry:

Once the baby is a day old, a tiny sensor is kept on the baby’s skin which is called a pulse oximeter. It does not hurt the baby and measures the quantity of oxygen in their blood. Babies with insufficient oxygen in the blood could suffer from a type of heart disease called critical congenital heart disease.

  • Hearing Screen:

A hearing screening can be done any time after the baby is about 12 hours old. There are two different types of hearing screenings done to check the baby’s response to sound, and both are quick and painless. Hearing screening could be done when the baby is asleep as well.

Reasons for your baby to undergo newborn screening:

  • Newborn screening allows health professionals to identify and treat certain conditions before the baby falls sick.
  • Newborn screening is important because even if your baby looks healthy, some medical conditions can't be seen just by looking.
  • Finding these conditions soon after birth can help prevent serious problems, including brain damage, organ damage, and even death.

Remember, prevention is better than cure. Ensure newborn screening is done for your newborn and promise her a healthy tomorrow.

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