Newborn Blood Screening Program--Commonly Asked Questions

What is newborn blood screening?

Newborn blood screening is a special blood test for newborns. Just a few drops of blood from your baby's heel are put onto a special test paper and sent to the Wisconsin State Lab of Hygiene.

Why is newborn screening so important?

Most babies look healthy when they are born. We test all babies because a few babies look healthy but may have a rare disorder that needs early treatment to prevent serious health problems.

Wisconsin law (Statute 253.13) requires that all babies born in hospitals in Wisconsin have newborn screening before they leave the hospital.  Babies born at home must be tested within a week of birth.

As a parent, you may refuse newborn screening for your baby if your religious beliefs and practices or personal convictions do not allow this testing. If you refuse to have the tests done, you may be asked to sign a paper stating that you refused to have your baby tested for these very serious disorders. 

How is the screening done?

Before your baby leaves the hospital a few drops of blood from your baby's heel are put onto a special test paper and sent to the Wisconsin State Lab of Hygiene to be tested. The test is simple and safe. Some babies cry when their heel is pricked, but the discomfort lasts only a short time. There is a small risk of infection when the heel is pricked, but this risk is very low.

The newborn screen is most accurate if your baby's blood is taken after the first 24 hours of his or her life. If your baby's newborn screening heelstick was done before 24 hours of age, your doctor may ask you to repeat the test when your baby is one to two weeks old. However, if your baby was born prematurely or needed special care after birth, the timing of repeat testing may be different. 

What disorders are screened for in Wisconsin?

Learn more about the 44 disorders for which the Wisconsin Newborn Screening Program currently screens. 

Can my baby be screened for other disorders?

Accurate and gentle methods are available to screen newborn babies hearing before they leave the hospital.  Early detection of hearing loss can lead to improved speech and language skills. (Go to Wisconsin Sound Beginnings for more information.)

Using a non-invasive method, critical congenital heart disease screening uses a pulse oximeter to test blood oxygen saturation levels.

No one test can detect all disorders in newborns. There may be other rare disorders that can be detected in the newborn period that are not included in the newborn screening test. For more information, talk with your baby's doctor. 

How will I get the results?

Your baby's doctor will receive a report with the test results. Make sure to ask your baby's doctor about the results of your baby's newborn screens. You have the right to ask your doctor or nurse to explain the screening process and to provide the results to you. 

What if my baby's test is abnormal?

An abnormal newborn screening result does not mean that your baby has a disorder. This is a screening test that finds babies who may be at risk for a disorder. If your baby's newborn screen is abnormal, your doctor will talk with you about the next steps to take. Your doctor may refer you to a specialist for more testing and genetic counseling. Then, if your baby is diagnosed with a disorder, treatment will be started to prevent possible problems. 

How are the disorders treated?

Each disorder is different. Some are treated with a special diet and others with medicine. If treated early, many babies grow up to lead a normal, healthy life. In a few cases, the disorders may not be completely treatable. Early diagnosis and treatment will allow your baby the best chance of normal growth and development. 

How can I help my baby?

Make sure your baby is tested before you leave the hospital.

Leave your correct address and phone number with the birth hospital and your baby's doctor. If you do not have a phone, leave the number of a friend or relative who can find you.

If your baby's doctor asks you to bring your baby back to repeat the newborn screening test or for further testing, do so as soon as possible. It is important that testing be done right away.

Last Revised: May 18, 2015