Mod Midwives: Newborn Screening

September is Newborn Screening Awareness Month. Here at Metro Midwifery we are such big proponents of newborn screening that we even recorded a podcast about it for this week!

But first, some background information.

The Newborn Screening Program covers three basic newborn screens: the blood spot (genetic) screening, the critical-congenital heart defect screening, and hearing screening.

The blood spot screening is what most people think of when we talk about newborn screening. It was started in the early 1960s with the first test–PKU. That name has been hard to shake and is often still used as slang for the blood spot test, which now actually screens for potentially over 60 disorders now (PKU is just one of them).

Many of the disorders we screen for are critically important to catch in time to prevent long-term complications. That’s why conducting the test within the first 24-48 hours of life is so important. And although many of the conditions are rare, when you add up the risk of your baby having any one of the conditions, we’ll find 1:300 babies will have one of the conditions that is tested for. That is not that rare!

The critical congenital heart defect screen (CCHD) is the newest member of the newborn screening panel. This can catch a number of heart conditions that need to be caught and treated as soon as possible. Approximately 1:110 babies will have a heart defect, and about 25% of those will be critical–meaning they need to be treated in order to protect the baby’s health. This is perhaps the most simple of the three screens, and only involves the use of a pulse oximeter to measure baby’s oxygen saturation levels. However, it must also be conducted between 24-48 hours of life and not all community providers have the equipment, so this is an important question to ask a potential midwife.

Finally, the hearing screen is the third newborn screen test for your baby. This one is not quite as time sensitive, but it is important to note that the younger (and sleepier) the baby, the easier it is to do the test. This is possibly the most likely to get skipped with community birthing families as there is another appointment to be made in many cases, whereas it’s easily done in the hospital before discharge (many families don’t even know their baby gets screened for this). This is also a test that is easily skipped because many parents feel confident their baby can hear. However, what we know is that catching a hearing loss in the first 6 months is important for preventing long-term cognitive and speech delays, but if not screened as a newborn, the average age of identifying a hearing loss is 4 years of age. So it is important to recognize that babies may compensate, even when they have a significant hearing loss, by reacting and engaging in other ways.

So, with no further ado…here is our podcast for this week!

For more information about newborn screening, we love the Baby’s First Test website. And if you’d like to see the project that Gina was involved with last year, including collection tips, you can find the videos on our previous blog post.