Newborn testing: heel prick and hearing tests
There are some routine and important tests that can tell you about the health and wellbeing of your newborn. These can provide reassurance about significant aspects of your baby’s health and development, so it’s worth considering all your options carefully.
Two tests are strongly recommended and overseen by the Ministry of Health’s National Screening Unit – the ‘heel prick’ test and a test that checks your baby’s hearing.
The ‘heel prick’ test (also called the ‘Guthrie’, ‘PKU’ or ‘newborn metabolic’ test) involves taking a small blood sample from baby’s heel 48 to 72 hours after they are born. The laboratory checks the sample for over 20 rare metabolic conditions or disorders. Without testing, these conditions may not be found.
These conditions and disorders are rare – almost all babies born in New Zealand each year are tested (around 64,000) and out of all these babies, only around 45 are identified as having a metabolic disorder. And early treatment can prevent potentially serious complications that can cause permanent damage to your baby, or even death.
The other recommended test checks your baby’s hearing. The test involves placing a small soft ear cup, which makes soft clicking sounds, on your sleeping baby’s ear. Newborn hearing screening aims to identify newborns with hearing loss early so they can get the help they need with language, learning and social development. This isn’t just important for the children – it’s also important for their family and whānau.
The hearing test measures whether your baby’s ear is responding to sounds played through the ear cup. It does not hurt or harm your baby. In the unlikely event your baby is found to have hearing loss (this affects around 60 babies each year, out of thousands of tested babies), you’ll then be offered support depending on your baby’s hearing loss.
If you wait to find out if baby has a problem, it might be too late to fix it. These two tests, both established as standard practice worldwide, are strongly recommended because early detection can make a difference to your baby’s development – and in some cases save lives.
Remember, you have the right to decide whether or not your baby has testing. If you’d like any more information about newborn tests, have a chat to your midwife or doctor or visit the National Screening Unit’s website at nsu.govt.nz
Heel prick and hearing tests are both strongly recommended by the Ministry of Health’s National Screening Unit.
IMPORTANT FACTS ABOUT HEEL PRICK AND HEARING TESTS
Heel prick test
- The heel prick test checks for over 20 medical conditions. These conditions can lead to serious complications that can cause permanent damage to your baby, or even death.
- About 45 New Zealand babies a year are found and treated through the heel prick test programme.
- Finding out early through testing means your baby can be treated before they become sick.
- Testing involves a small prick to your baby’s heel to collect a small amount of blood on a card. This can be done in the hospital or by your midwife at home. Feeding your baby may help to settle them while the test is being done.
- Results will be available in about 10 days. Most babies have a negative result, which means they do not have one of the disorders.
- You can choose to have the blood spot card returned to you after testing is finished or the card can be securely stored by the laboratory.
- If your baby can’t hear well, it’s hard for them to understand and communicate with you and others.
- It’s important for language development that babies hear from a very young age. Hearing is important for your baby’s spoken language, learning and social development.
- If your baby cannot hear well, there are ways to support their language, learning and social development. Finding out early through testing means support can be given early.
- Testing involves placing a cup, which makes soft clicking sounds, on your sleeping baby’s ear. A computer will show how your baby’s ears respond. It does not hurt your baby.