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What is Newborn Screening?

Newborn screening (NBS) is a nationwide program to find babies born with certain health conditions and get them to a doctor to treat them. Early treatment may prevent serious, lifelong problems. In many states, babies are screened for more than 50 different health conditions. You can learn what your state screens for here.

One of the conditions screened for is cystic fibrosis (CF). CF causes people to have breathing and digestive problems that can be treated with the help of special CF health care providers. For more information on cystic fibrosis, read What Is CF?


Why is NBS done?

All babies in the U.S. are screened because the earlier a child is diagnosed and treatment is started, the healthier the child will be. What’s more, most babies born with a screened-for condition do not appear to have health problems at first. Newborn screening helps us identify these babies before they become ill so they can be treated and stay as healthy as possible.

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A few drops of blood from a heel prick are placed on a special card, called a Guthrie card.

A few drops of blood from a heel prick are placed on a special card, called a Guthrie card.
Photo courtesy of March of Dimes.

How is NBS done? 

The NBS test is done during the first few days of your baby’s life — usually by a health care provider in the hospital. A few drops of blood from a heel prick are placed on a special card, called a Guthrie card.

This card with your baby’s information is mailed to a special state laboratory. The blood is tested for certain health conditions. In some states, the NBS test involves two blood samples, one at birth and one a few weeks later. In other states, a second blood sample is collected some of the time.

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How and when can we get the NBS results?

Your baby’s primary health care provider usually gets the NBS results and tells you the results. Results for most screened-for conditions are usually available about one week after the blood is collected. The results of a newborn screen for CF can take longer.

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What do the NBS results tell us?

A positive NBS result tells you that your baby might have a health condition. Further testing should be done. But a positive (abnormal) newborn screen does not mean your baby has a condition. Many babies who have a positive (abnormal) NBS do not have the condition. A different test, called a diagnostic test, is needed to find out if your baby has the condition.

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Learn more about newborn screening:

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Updated 1/31/14

The Cystic Fibrosis Foundation is an accredited charity of the Better Business Bureau.