Newborn Screening

Newborn Screening

Newborn screening programs across the United States currently screen 4 million infants each year. This public health program detects treatable disorders in newborns, allowing treatment to begin often before symptoms or permanent problems occur. Newborn screening not only saves lives but can also improve the health and quality of life for children and their families.

Within the first 24 to 48 hours after birth, babies undergo a simple heel stick and a few drops of blood are collected on a special paper card. Providers test those dried blood spots for a variety of different congenital disorders, or conditions that are present when the baby is born. Newborns are also screened for hearing disorders and certain serious heart problems using methods other than dried blood spots.

NICHD has been at the forefront of research related to newborn screening since the Institute's early days, with notable success.

NICHD research on newborn screening aims to:

  • Improve existing screening techniques and technologies or develop new ones.
  • Expand the number of conditions for which screening tests are available.
  • Develop new treatments and disease-management strategies for conditions that can be detected through newborn screening, but for which treatments are not yet available.

General Information

About Newborn Screening

In newborn screening, a few drops of blood from a newborn can help detect serious but treatable conditions so that treatment can begin before symptoms arise.

What is the purpose of newborn screening?

Newborn screening detects disabling or possibly fatal conditions early enough so that treatments can reduce disability or death from that condition.

What disorders are newborns screened for in the United States?

Each state decides specifically which conditions its newborns are screened for, but a government committee of experts recommends screening for more than 30 core and 26 secondary conditions.

How many newborns are screened in the United States?

Nearly all of the 4 million U.S. infants born each year are screened in the first 24 to 48 hours after birth. About one out of 300 newborns is later diagnosed with a treatable condition.

How is newborn screening done?

Most newborn screening relies on collecting a few drops of blood, but can also involve playing sounds, and placing a sensor on the skin.

How are my newborn's screening results used?

Screening tests do not diagnose a problem, but detect that one might exist. If a screen is positive, additional tests are needed to confirm and diagnose a specific condition.

Brief History of Newborn Screening

NICHD's newborn screening efforts include the first state/national programs to screen for phenylketonuria (PKU) and congenital hyperthyroidism, once major causes of disability.