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Sharp Health News

Newborn screening saves lives

Oct. 9, 2017

Newborn screening saves lives

Whether you are having your first baby or your fifth, you’ve likely created a birth plan. You’ve researched and discussed all your options, and have an idea of who should be in the room, whether you want to use pain medications, what position you’d like to be in during delivery, and if you will play music in the background.

But did you stop to think about what comes after your baby is born?

California state law requires that all newborns are screened for a variety of serious, but treatable, disorders soon after birth. According to the California Department of Public Health, a blood test performed within the first day or two of your child’s birth includes screening for 75 different genetic and congenital disorders. The disorders can cause serious health problems — including brain damage — or death. Screening allows babies with any disorders to be identified early so they can start treatment.

“During the postpartum period, the newborn screen test is performed when a baby is around 12 to 48 hours old,” says Dana Cohen, RN, manager of the Maternal Infant Services Unit at Sharp Mary Birch Hospital for Women & Newborns. “The lab technician comes to the mother and infant’s room and performs the test there. Unlike in the past, we no longer remove the baby from the room.”

According to Cohen, the lab technician takes just a few drops of blood from your baby’s heel. This test is very simple, but is able to detect a large number of treatable, rare genetic disorders including:

  • Metabolic disorders, such as phenylketonuria
  • Endocrine disorders, including primary congenital hypothyroidism
  • Hemoglobin disorders, such as sickle cell disease
  • Cystic fibrosis
  • Severe combined immunodeficiency (SCID)

“The screening detects disorders that can be very devastating if not discovered early,” Cohen says. “California state law requires hospitals to perform the screening, and we would only refrain from obtaining the test if parents refuse it and sign a waiver. However, we don’t get a lot of refusals when parents realize what the test entails.”

Screening results are sent to your infant’s pediatrician. If any abnormalities are found, you will be contacted to discuss treatment. Talk with your postpartum nurse or pediatrician if you have questions about the test or your infant’s results.

Learn more about the complete list of disorders tested for in California.

For the news media: To talk with Dana Cohen about newborn screening for an upcoming story, contact Erica Carlson, senior public relations specialist, at

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