Newborn screening helps ensure the health of all newborns by testing them using four different types of screening tests.
How we help
All newborns receive the blood sample tested for bilirubin (jaundice), the newborn hearing screen, the newborn screening dry blood spot tested for rare, treatable conditions, and the screening for critical congenital heart conditions.
Newborns are screened for jaundice which may appear as yellowing of the eyes and/or skin. Newborn jaundice happens when a baby has a higher level of bilirubin in the blood. It’s common for babies to have mild jaundice with levels of bilirubin that are a bit high, which is not harmful. However, it’s possible for a baby to have such a high level of bilirubin in their blood that it can cause damage to a baby’s brain resulting in lasting health problems. Testing of bilirubin levels is routine and done for all babies in Nova Scotia. A blood sample is taken in a small tube to screen for jaundice (increased bilirubin). If needed there is treatment to lower bilirubin levels.
Bilirubin test results are normally available within two hours of sample collection, often before a decision on discharging from the hospital is made. If your baby has an increase in bilirubin, phototherapy may be considered (putting your baby under lights) to decrease the level of bilirubin in your baby’s blood. Contact your primary care provider or birth hospital for more information about bilirubin testing and follow up for your baby. Learn more about this screening.
Newborn Hearing Screen
Newborns are screened for hearing loss before leaving the hospital. Early detection of hearing loss is important for speech and language, and social and cognitive development. The newborn hearing screen in Nova Scotia is coordinated by Hearing and Speech Nova Scotia, with locations throughout the province.
The hearing screen is done in hospital using a machine that plays soft sounds into a baby’s ears. The test works best when the baby is asleep. A newborn will receive a “pass” or a “refer” from this screening test, indicating if more follow up is needed.
Newborn Screening, Dry Blood Spot
The vast majority of babies are healthy at birth. However, a baby is occasionally born with a condition that may be dangerous to their health. The newborn screening bloodspot identifies newborns that may have certain rare but treatable conditions. A few drops of blood are taken from the baby’s heel when the baby is 24-48 hours old. The blood is placed on a special type of absorbent paper and sent to the laboratory at the IWK for testing. Early detection and intervention are important for healthy growth and development. If follow up is required, you'll be contacted by your health care provider or someone from the Maritime Newborn Screening Program. Learn more about this screening
Screening for Critical Congenital Heart Conditions
Most babies are born with healthy hearts. But some babies are born with a heart condition that needs surgery or other procedures in the first year of life, so this is important to detect. Babies with a severe heart condition typically have low levels of oxygen in the blood. A test called pulse oximetry is used to measure the oxygen levels in a baby’s blood. Screening with pulse oximetry is done at birth hospitals in Nova Scotia between 24-36 hours of life. For information and follow up about this screen, please contact your baby’s birth hospital and/or primary care provider. Learn more about this screening.