Every expectant parent hopes to bring home a healthy newborn. But if your brand-new bundle winds up with special health needs, it’s better to find out sooner rather than later, so that needed therapies, interventions and treatments can begin right away. That’s why each state performs routine newborn screening to test for disorders that, if untreated, could lead to developmental delays, or in some cases, death. In many cases, these disorders are “hidden disorders,” not immediately evident to a health care provider—which means the conditions could easily be missed without the screening panel. Here’s what you need to know about your newborn’s first test.

When does it happen?

Within a day or two of giving birth, your baby will receive a heel prick at the hospital (or from your midwife, if you delivered at home). In the span of a few moments, a few drops of blood are placed on a card, and your baby will be returned to your arms. Most blood samples are sent for screening immediately, arriving at the testing site within a few days of the heel prick. Prior to discharge from the hospital, your baby will also receive a newborn hearing screening, which takes less than 15 minutes and usually takes place bedside in your hospital room.

What’s screened?

The state of Wisconsin currently screens some 65,000 newborns annually for a slate of 46 conditions that include metabolic disorders, endocrine disorders, fatty acid disorders and congenital diseases. The conditions include phenylketonuria (PKU), cystic fibrosis, congenital heart disease, sickle cell disease, hypothyroidism, severe combined immune deficiency (SCID) and galactosemia. If your baby’s blood tests positive for any of the conditions, your health care provider will give you more information about your next steps.

What happens next?

The card with baby’s dried blood drops is sent to a state laboratory, where the blood will be tested. Results will be sent to the baby’s health care provider. If a baby tests positive for a condition, follow-up tests will be requested before a diagnosis is confirmed.

The good news?

Happily, these disorders are rare. In fact, 99.8 percent of babies will receive a normal bill of health after screening, helping new parents rest a little easier, even if sleep is scarce in the hazy blur of baby’s first weeks at home. The newborn screening panel provides a foundational first step toward a healthy, happy future for your little one. For more information about newborn screening in Wisconsin, visit dhs.wisconsin.gov.

Malia Jacobson is a nationally published health journalist and mom of three.

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