Newborn screenings: ‘Every child deserves a fair start in life’

 In Newborn Screening

You may be excited to love on your friend’s newborn, but remember babies this young can easily get sick.

While new parents are busy counting toes and getting to know their newborn face-to-face (and skin-to-skin), Intermountain hospitals are making sure newborns have the healthiest possible start in life.

“All babies, even those that appear healthy at birth, are all screened so that if there is a health issue, it can be identified early and treatment can begin right away,” Dr. Brendon Holmes, a pediatrician at the Intermountain Hurricane Clinic, said.

Newborns are routinely given a small prick in their heel with a lancet to yield a few drops of blood. The blood is collected on special paper and sent to a state lab where it is tested for 39 disorders. The same screening is done again at the newborn’s well-child exam at two weeks.

“The test screens for metabolic, endocrine and hematological disorders — including PKU, congenital hypothyroidism, sickle cell anemia and cystic fibrosis,” Holmes said. “Identifying these disorders before symptoms begin saves lives. Early detection means early treatment and a greater possibility for a normal life.”

Holmes explained that while in the womb, a baby gets everything they need from their mother. After birth, the baby’s body has to process oxygen, proteins, fats, and everything else, all on their own. The screening program helps physicians know if that new little body is functioning properly on all levels.

“Newborns are also given a bilirubin test,” Holmes said. “This tests for jaundice, and makes sure the liver is processing old red blood cells correctly. This test is done with the same heel prick.”

Even healthy newborns can develop jaundice for multiple reasons. Mild cases can clear up on their own, but high bilirubin levels can cause brain damage and other health issues such as hearing loss. Treatment for jaundice is often simple and usually involves phototherapy, or special light therapy.

“A hearing test or screening is also routinely given in the hospital,” Holmes said. “This is often done while the baby is asleep. A small probe is put in the ear, sound is transmitted to the ear, and the probe checks to see if the eardrum is moving, vibrating, and responding properly.”

Early detection of hearing problems can reduce the effects of hearing loss and speech issues as well as improve communication outcomes.

“Newborns are also given a pulse oximetry test,” Holmes said. “This tests the amount of oxygen in blood and screens for critical congenital heart defects. Sensors are placed on the right hand and a foot of the baby to look for equal blood and oxygen flow to all the extremities. This test also indicates if blood is flowing in the right direction.”

Ideally, newborns should have their first well-child exam when they are five days old to make sure they are gaining weight and feeding well. This is also a good time for parents to ask questions and bring up concerns about the results of these various newborn screening tests.

“Essentially,” said Holmes, “every child deserves a fair start in life. These routine screening tests can detect many unseen disorders and give newborns the healthiest start possible.”

This LiVe Well column represents collaboration between healthcare professionals from the medical staffs of not-for-profit Intermountain Healthcare hospitals and The Spectrum & Daily News

Source: The Spectrum

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