Life-Saving Screenings for Newborns

Having a baby is one of life’s greatest moments for new parents. Anxiously awaiting the arrival of a new member of the family comes with many firsts, milestones and discoveries. Emotions are high as mom and dad count fingers and toes and claim baby’s eyes and nose. For second-time mom, Rachel Satarawala, those first hours after the birth of her daughter were as many parents describe, a “blur.” “From the start of contractions at home to the time she arrived at the hospital, it totaled an hour and a half,” she says of the whirlwind course of her daughter’s birth.  

“Eventually when things settled down for us while at the hospital, I knew that her blood had been gathered and sent off to be tested,” she remembers.  “I believe I was told this by the nurse on staff, and that I and my daughter’s pediatrician would be notified if follow ups were necessary due to abnormal tests.”

At 24 hours of life, the nurse caring for mom and baby administer life-saving screenings for conditions that could be life-threatening to baby within the first days and weeks of life. Hillcrest Medical Center neonatologist Dr. Lisa Owens says while many first-time parents are unaware of these critical screenings, they can save their baby’s life.  “These are things that unless your baby has it or you know someone with a baby who has it, you don’t even think about it,” says Dr. Owens.

“The best screenings identify if there is a problem and treatment is available to help save the baby’s life,” Dr. Owens says of the screenings required by the state of Oklahoma – metabolic screenings and a hearing screening. “We screen for more than what the average state does, so I feel Oklahoma is really ahead.”

Within the first day of life, these screenings can indicate if a newborn has an underlying issue, such as a metabolic problem causing buildup in the body which could lead to brain damage, for example. “These are things that the baby wouldn’t show symptoms for right away, but it is a problem and if it is addressed it can save a baby’s life,” explains Dr. Owens. “There is a whole panel of things we screen for – some that cause low blood sugar when the baby is ill and that can cause sudden death in a baby. And that’s something that no one would ever know until the baby gets sick.”

In addition to the screenings required by the state, Hillcrest Medical Center also screens all newborns for congenital heart disease through a non-invasive test measuring the concentration of oxygen in the baby’s blood stream. If levels are low, a follow up echocardiogram is conducted, as well as a consultation with a pediatric cardiologist. “Congenital heart disease we screen for will usually show up within the first 72 hours of life,” says Dr. Owens. “It is most threatening and most critical in first few days of life.”

For parents like Rachel, these screening give additional confidence their baby is healthy when everyone is ready to go home, even if you work in health care. “With my background as a physical therapist and pediatric studies, I recalled a lot of this information and the importance of it especially then as it was being applied/tested for my own child,” she says of being aware of newborn screenings. “Knowing that my child did not test for anything abnormal and require follow gives me peace of mind.”

Dr. Owens also advises parents to pay close attention to their newborn’s behavior at home. If the baby acts lethargic and you can’t rouse them, contact your pediatrician. Also, if your baby’s skin has a blue-ish cast or is running a temperature above 101 degrees, call your pediatrician immediately.