Newborn screening – what do doctors test for?

Going into labour is a rollercoaster ride of ifs, buts, and maybes. Even with all the planning in the world and a crack team of family and medical specialists on hand to help you along at every step of the way, there are always going to be moments of thinking on the spot and making decisions as the situation develops. Getting through the labour is all that matters during those minutes and hours. When the baby arrives, your bundle of joy brings with it a new set of considerations and worries as you wait for the results from newborn screening.

Is your baby OK? That’s the first question. And as a protective parent, you’ll likely be asking yourself what are the signs that something is wrong, such as how to recognise birth injuries and how to diagnose cerebral palsy. This is where the medical professionals come in. Let’s look at the kinds of things that doctors test for in newborn screening.

Newborn screening – the physical exam

The newborn physical examination typically takes place within about three days of birth. The exam may be carried out in the hospital, at a doctor’s surgery, in a clinic, or at home. Care is taken not to cause any distress to the baby – however, certain parts of the test do involve brief moments that may be slightly uncomfortable, such as shining a light in the eye to test eye function. Along with the eyes, other important parts of the test will involve examining the heart and the hips for any signs of abnormality. In boys, the testicles are also examined for any potential issues.


The eyes are tested first and foremost for appearance and movement. Where the appearance of the eyes is not in fitting with what is expected (such as cloudiness), the issue may be cataracts. Although common as an issue in comparison to other issues, the condition only affects under five babies in every thousand. Cataracts will require treatment.


The initial heart assessment begins by observing your baby’s current state. Where the baby is calm and breathing normally with no signs of a racing pulse, this is a sign that there are no immediate heart defects. The pulse is checked and a stethoscope is used to listen to the heart. In some cases, murmurs are detected – however, not all cases of murmurs require treatment.


The hip joints are the largest joints in the body. Checking for any signs of abnormality now – by inspecting the range of movement – will increase the likelihood that treatments can be effective (meaning greater levels of mobility later in life).

We hope you found the above overview of newborn screening useful. Remember, newborn screening is a totally normal practice, but an important one in their first days of life to check for certain disorders and conditions that can hinder their normal development.


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