Newborn Screening FAQs

What is the newborn screening (NBS) test?

This test was historically referred to as the PKU or heel-stick test. It tests babies for serious disorders and is usually performed when your baby is 24-48 hours old. Ideally, the specimen should be sent to the laboratory by the fastest way possible to prevent delay.

Why is the test done?

The test is done to find out if your baby has a disease or condition for which early treatment can prevent death, mental retardation, or physical disability.

Who must be tested?

Every baby born in the United States should be tested for the panel of disorders specified by their state.

How is the test performed?

The test is performed by pricking your baby's heel and putting a few drops of blood on a special filter paper. The paper is allowed to dry and then sent to the newborn screening laboratory where several different tests will be performed.

What disorders are tested in newborn screening?

Currently, all state programs have screening tests for PKU and congenital hypothyroidism. More than 40 programs screen for sickle cell disease and 48 screen for galactosemia. To find the disorders currently screened in your state, go to the National Newborn Screening & Genetics Resource Center.

But we have no family history of these disorders...

Parents who have no family history of problems and/or who have already had healthy children can still have children with these disorders. In fact, most children with these disorders come from families with no previous history of the condition.

How will I get the results of the test?

Parents are notified of test results if additional testing is needed. Ask about results when you see your baby’s health professional.

How long will it take to get results?

Test times vary.  If additional testing is needed, you will be notified right away.  This may be within a couple of days of testing.  If the results are normal, it may take longer.  Ask your baby's health professional about the results.

Why do some babies need to be retested?

Your baby may be retested if you leave the hospital before 24 hours. Some States require a second test on all babies.  Some babies need to be retested because there is a problem with the blood sample.  A few babies need to be retested because the first test showed an increased risk for a health problem.

What if my baby needs to be retested?

Your baby’s health professional or the State Health Department will contact you if your baby needs to be retested. They will tell you why the baby needs to be retested and what to do next.  A retest does not mean that your baby is sick, but more testing needs to be done to be sure that your baby is healthy.

If your baby needs to be retested, get it done right away. Make sure that your hospital and health professional have your correct address and phone number.

What if my baby's test shows a problem?

You will be contacted if your baby needs additional testing.  This does not mean that your baby is sick.  Your baby may need some more tests.  Your baby's health professional will let you know what tests are needed and how to get them.  It is very important that you get these tests done to make sure that your baby is healthy.  If your baby is sick, treatment may be needed right away.