Open Accessibility Menu

A Healthy Start: Newborn Screenings

A Healthy Start: Newborn Screenings

A Brief Primer on Newborn Health Screenings That Benefit Babies—and Offer Parents Peace of Mind.

A day or two after your baby is born at Winchester Medical Center (WMC), he or she will receive essential health screenings to evaluate for hearing loss; heart defects; and rare but serious disorders that, if unrecognized, can lead to physical and intellectual disabilities.

Jason RobertsonThe tests are brief and simple—five drops of blood drawn from your newborn’s heel, a painless hearing check, a noninvasive blood oxygen test. But the results can be life-changing or even lifesaving, says Jason Robertson, MD, chair of pediatrics at WMC. “We screen for medical conditions that may not run in a family and may not be obvious right away. Babies with them often look healthy at birth,” he says. “But they can be affected very early in life. When we know a newborn is at risk, we can take the right steps immediately to keep them healthy as they grow.”

The state-mandated newborn screenings provided at WMC include checks for metabolic, genetic and hormonal conditions that can quickly lead to developmental problems, serious health issues or be life-threatening.

Here’s What Parents Need to Know:

Blood tests: A few drops of your baby’s blood are sent from WMC to a state lab for quick analysis. Thirty-one tests are performed, checking for well-known conditions such as cystic fibrosis and sickle cell anemia as well as rarer conditions such as phenylketonuria (PKU), which allows a protein component to build up to dangerous levels. In 2019, two new genetic screenings were added to the state’s list: Pompe disease, a cause of early infant heart defects and muscle weakness, and MPS-1, which can damage organs.

Hearing check: Using a device placed gently on a baby’s head during sleep or at a quiet time, a healthcare provider tests a newborn’s hearing painlessly. “This is an important test because the early detection of hearing loss can help improve the development of the infant,” Dr. Robertson says.

Critical congenital heart disease test: Blood oxygen levels are measured noninvasively, in one of the baby’s hands and also in one foot. If levels are lower than optimal, the test will be repeated. If needed, a baby may receive advanced heart checks such as an echocardiogram.

Other Items to Know: 

  • Blood is typically drawn 24 to 48 hours after birth. Results are usually available within two weeks; you’ll be contacted right away if the tests find a potential problem. Otherwise, ask about the results at a wellness visit with your baby’s pediatrician. “Sometimes the test has to be repeated if a result is outside the normal range or if the lab sees a problem with the sample,” Dr. Robertson says. “Don’t panic, but be sure to follow your pediatrician’s advice and have a new sample drawn as quickly as possible.”
  • The test will be repeated in the hospital if a hearing problem is suspected. If needed, you will be referred to an otolaryngologist or pediatric audiologist.
  • A range of dangerous congenital heart defects can be found even before symptoms develop—and before a baby leaves the hospital.

For more information, visit