Newborn Tests and Care

St. Luke's Womens Services

Why does my baby need newborn screening tests?

Although most babies are healthy when they are born, every U.S. state requires that newborn screening tests be performed on all babies to identify those that may look healthy but have a rare and/or serious health problem. If problems are found early, treatment can help prevent serious medical problems or death.

How will my baby be tested?

After your baby is born, a doctor or nurse will perform a series of tests to determine your baby’s physical condition. A routine evaluation, called the Apgar test, is used to identify whether your baby needs urgent medical care. After delivery, your baby will also be given a vitamin K shot, eye drops, a hepatitis B vaccine and several other newborn screening tests including a hearing test.

What happens during an Apgar test?

During an Apgar test, your baby’s heart rate, breathing, reflex response, muscle tone, and skin coloration are measured. These five signs are evaluated at one minute after birth and at five minutes after birth. Each test is given a score between zero and ten, and the five scores are added together to make up the Apgar score.

What does the Apgar score mean?

If your baby has an Apgar score of seven or more, he or she is probably in good physical condition. A baby rarely scores a perfect 10, because his or her skin color may be slightly blue until he or she warms up. A low Apgar score may indicate problems with your baby’s heart or lungs. It may also be the result of a difficult labor. Your baby may be in good physical condition, but have a low score immediately after birth. Premature babies may score low because of immature development in the womb. Keep in mind that your baby’s Apgar score does not predict his or her future health.

After your baby is born, an umbilical cord gas will be performed. The doctor will clamp off a section of the umbilical cord and take 2 blood samples. This test tells us how well a baby was exchanging oxygen at birth.

Before you leave the hospital, a nurse will also take a few drops of blood from your baby’s heel. The hospital will send the blood sample to a newborn screening lab. In addition, your baby will be screened for hearing loss with one or two quick noninvasive tests using a tiny earphone, microphone, or both. A painless pulse oximetry test using skin sensors also will be performed to measure the oxygen levels in your baby’s blood. Low blood oxygen levels can be a sign of a serious heart defect that can be corrected with surgery.

How will I get the results of the test?

The results of some tests (eg, hearing and pulse oximetry) may be available before you leave the hospital. Blood test results will be available from your baby’s health care provider after you leave the hospital. You will be notified by your baby’s health care provider or state health department if further testing is needed. Ask about results when you see your baby’s health care provider. Make sure that your hospital and your baby’s health care provider have your correct address and phone number.