The Basics: Overview
Talk about newborn screening with your doctor or midwife before your baby is born. Newborn screening includes tests that check for certain diseases and conditions in newborn babies.
Newborn screening lets doctors find these diseases and conditions early — before your baby shows any signs of a problem. Early treatment is important to keep your baby healthy and developing normally.
Your baby will get most tests before leaving the hospital. The tests don't cause any harm or risk to your baby. Check out these common questions about newborn screening.
The Basics: Blood Tests
What tests will my baby need?
All states require newborn screening, but the number and types of tests can be different from state to state. Depending on your family health history, you may want to ask the doctor for extra tests.
Most newborn screening tests use a few drops of blood taken from the heel of your baby’s foot. Doctors can use the same sample of blood to test for many different diseases, including:
- Hypothyroidism: The thyroid is a gland in the neck that makes the thyroid hormone. Hypothyroidism (low thyroid hormone) can cause problems with growth and development, but it can be treated if it’s found early.
- PKU (phenylketonuria): People with PKU can’t process certain foods. To make up for the foods they can’t eat, they have to drink a special formula. If it’s not treated early, PKU can cause intellectual disability — which can limit a person’s ability to learn and use everyday life skills.
- Sickle cell disease: Sickle cell is a blood disorder that can cause serious pain, infections, stroke, and other health problems. If it’s found early, sickle cell disease can be treated.
The Basics: Other Tests
Screening for heart defects can help find some problems with the way the heart develops before your baby goes home from the hospital. Finding and treating these defects early can help prevent serious problems or death.
Doctors test for heart defects by placing a small sensor on your baby's hand or foot. This test is painless and only takes a few minutes.
A hearing screening checks how your baby responds to sounds using a tiny sensor or earphone. If your baby has hearing loss, finding out early can help prevent problems with speech, language, and social development.
If your hospital doesn’t screen for hearing loss, ask your baby's doctor to check your child's hearing in the first month.
Some hearing loss starts later on, so have your child's hearing checked if you notice any problems. Learn more about signs of hearing loss in babies and children.
If your child has hearing loss, it’s important to get help early on. Getting help early helps children with hearing loss develop communication and social skills. Some children may also be able to use devices that help them hear, like a hearing aid, or get medicine or surgery.
Take Action: Make a Plan
If you're pregnant, talk with your doctor or midwife about newborn screening before your baby is born.
Find out which tests your hospital offers.
Ask your doctor or midwife which newborn screening tests are offered at the hospital where your baby will be born. You can also call the hospital to ask about screening tests.
If you aren't planning to give birth at a hospital, your baby still needs to get screened. Ask your midwife if she can screen your baby for you. You can also take your baby to a hospital or clinic to get screened a few days after birth. To learn more:
- See which screening tests are offered in your state
- Contact your state health department and ask about required newborn screening
Ask the doctor when you'll get your baby’s test results. Your baby may need to get some tests again after leaving the hospital, especially if you go home less than 24 hours after giving birth.
Make a plan with your doctor about how you'll follow up. And be sure to follow the instructions for any additional tests your baby needs.
Take Action: Cost and Insurance
What about cost?
Under the Affordable Care Act, insurance plans must cover some newborn screening tests. Depending on your insurance plan, you may be able to get your baby screened at no cost to you. Check with your insurance company to find out more.
Your child may also qualify for free or low-cost health insurance through Medicaid or the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP). Learn about coverage options.
If you don’t have insurance, you may still be able to get free or low-cost screening tests for your baby. You can call one of the toll-free phone numbers below to connect with the health department in your area:
- For information in English, call 1-800-311-BABY (1-800-311-2229)
- For information in Spanish, call 1-800-504-7081
To learn more, check out these resources:
Take Action: Schedule a Checkup
Schedule well-baby checkups.
A well-baby checkup is a full checkup from your baby’s doctor that you schedule ahead of time. This is different from other visits for sickness or injury. Most babies have their first well-baby checkup 2 to 3 days after coming home from the hospital.
Start building your child’s health record now.
Keep track of your baby’s test results and vaccines (shots). Put medical information in a safe place — you’ll need it for child care, school, and other activities.
Your family’s health history is another important part of your baby’s health record. Use this family health history tool to keep track of your family’s health. Keep a copy with your baby’s other health information.
Content last updated May 10, 2022
This information on newborn screening is adapted from materials from the Maternal and Child Health Bureau, Health Resources and Services Administration.
National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention