Every year, more than four million babies are born in the U.S.  All of them are screened for certain health conditions, but the tests your baby receives depends on the state in which you live.

Today, baby Gael is happy and healthy, but just hours after he was born his parents got devastating news.

“It was really hard to hear,” said Luvy Rodriquez, Gael’s mom.

“I was just destroyed,” said Davis Villegas, Gael’s dad.

Gael had a serious congenital heart defect and needed major surgery.

“It was the worst six hours I have ever been through,” Villegas said.

The operation was a success and Gael’s parents feel lucky that a newborn screening test detected the problem before they even left the hospital. 

“It can be dangerous and even life-threatening if they are sent home without being diagnosed,” explained Gregory Perens, MD, Pediatric Cardiologist, Mattel Children’s Hospital UCLA.

Pulse oximetry takes just a few minutes and is the only screening for heart defects, but tests like this aren’t mandatory everywhere. Each state screens for anywhere from four to 30 disorders.

The sickle cell screening detects the blood disorder that occurs in about one in every 500 African American births.

The infant hearing screening is performed in most, but not all states. If yours doesn’t offer it, get your baby screened within three weeks of birth.

The cystic fibrosis screening can help doctors detect and treat lung and nutritional problems sooner.

Also, the toxoplasmosis test detects an infection that can invade the brain, eye, and muscle. It affects one in 1,000 babies, but less than a handful of states screen for it.

Baby Gael’s parents are grateful that the newborn test picked up his problem before it was too late.

“Every day that we have him, and every month that he turns one more month we thank God that we have him,” Rodriquez said.

We spoke with a Jacksonville pediatrician and she says in Florida they perform all the newborn tests except for the toxoplasmosis test.  They will do that one if there's reason to believe it's necessary, but it's not standard. The American Academy of Pediatrics recently called for a more standardized newborn screening program.

Additional Information:

HOW DO STATES DECIDE ON TESTS:   Newborn screening is the practice of testing every newborn for harmful or potentially fatal disorders that are not otherwise apparent at birth. Usually, state decisions about what to screen for have been used on weighing the costs against the benefits.  “Cost” considerations include: the risk of false positive results, the availability of treatments proven to help the condition, and financial costs.  States often face conflicting priorities when deciding budgets.  For example, a state may face a choice between expanding newborn screening and ensuring that all expectant mothers get proper prenatal care.  (Source: seattlechildrens.org)

TESTS:  Newborn screening varies by state and is subject to change, especially because of advancements in technology.  Congenital Hypothyroidism is the most commonly identified disorder in routine screening. Babies who have this don’t have enough thyroid hormone and develop retarded growth and brain development. If the disorder is detected early, a baby can be treated with oral doses of thyroid hormone to permit normal development.  Other diseases commonly tested for include: