In the first days after the birth, you will be offered various tests to make sure your baby is healthy. The doctor or midwife will discuss the tests with you beforehand and will be happy to answer any questions you may have. Although these tests are recommended, it’s up to you whether you decide to have them done.
You will be offered two physical examinations of your baby after she is born. The first is carried out immediately after the birth. The second is called the routine examination of the newborn and usually takes place 24 hours after your baby is born – although it can be any time between 6 and 72 hours after birth.
This examination will be carried out by a children’s doctor (paediatrician), a specially trained midwife or a neonatal nurse. They will examine your baby from top to toe, and in particular will examine her head, heart, hips, eyes and genitalia.
It is important that you inform the person carrying out the examination of any problems that run in the family – both on your side, and the baby’s father’s side – such as dislocated hips as a child, heart conditions, or sight or hearing defects. They also need to know about any difficulties you experienced during pregnancy or at your antenatal scans – or if your baby was lying breech. If a problem is found, your baby might need further tests, or to be seen again at an outpatients’ clinic after she has been discharged from hospital.
If you are told your baby’s heart makes an additional sound, called a ‘murmur’, you may feel worried, but in fact the condition is very common. One estimate is that 50% of babies have a heart murmur in the first week. Within a few weeks, most murmurs are not heard any more.
Developmental dysplasia of hips
The midwife or doctor will examine each hip joint to check that the head of the thigh bone (femur) moves as it should do within the socket at the hip, and that it doesn’t slip out.
For baby boys, the midwife will examine the scrotum to ensure that the testes (testicles) have travelled down from the abdomen. The testes usually move down into the scrotum two months before birth, but in some baby boys this does not happen. The ‘undescended’ testes may still descend in the first six months or up to one year after birth. If there is any concern about the testes at your baby’s 6-8 week check your health professional will arrange for your baby to be reviewed again. If you have any concerns about your baby’s testes, for example a swelling, please seek medical advice.
Tests, checks and screening
A few routine checks for minor health problems will be carried out in the days and weeks after your baby is born. These are designed to set your mind at rest and to give your baby a good start in life.
The usual check is just to observe the skin, which is yellowish if the baby is jaundiced – many new babies have mild jaundice. If the yellow colour of the skin doesn’t go away in a few days a blood check is done to see whether the jaundice is severe. Babies who are still jaundiced at 14 days will always be referred to a paediatrician for further investigations. There are other less common causes of jaundice which need to be ruled out. Most babies, however, are perfectly well.
Group B streptococcus (GBS)
If a baby develops GBS infection less than seven days after birth, it's known as early-onset GBS infection. Most babies who become infected develop symptoms within 12 hours of birth. If your baby is considered at increased risk of GBS infection, he or she will be monitored for signs of infection immediately after birth and before discharge. This will include assessing your baby’s general wellbeing, feeding, temperature, heart rate and breathing rate. Babies with GBS infection may be very sleepy, be floppy and not feed well. If you are worried about your baby contact NHS 24 on 111 or your health visitor or GP. If you cannot contact any health professionals within four hours then access Emergency Departments. Find out more about this infection (external website) .
Newborn hearing screening
A simple hearing screen will be done within the first few weeks after your baby is born, maybe even before you leave the maternity unit, to check if your baby has a hearing loss. This is important for your baby’s development and, if you need it, it means that you can get support and information at an early stage. If your baby’s hearing has not been checked within 4 weeks of getting home from hospital, ask your midwife or health visitor to make an appointment.
The newborn bloodspot test
Although most babies are born healthy, a few may have problems. All babies are examined carefully after birth so that these can be picked up as early as possible. Some problems which can’t be picked up in this way will show up in the bloodspot screening test.
The bloodspot test or ‘heel prick test’ is usually carried out when your baby is five days old. The midwife takes several spots of blood from the baby’s heel and places them on a special card which is sent to the lab for testing for five rare conditions: phenylketonuria (PKU), congenital hypothyroidism (CHT), cystic fibrosis (CF), medium chain acyl-CoA dehydrogenase deficiency (MCADD) and sickle cell disorders (SCDs).
All newborn babies in Scotland are eligible for a blood spot test. Your midwife will explain the test in detail, and ask for your permission to carry it out.
Normal results are not routinely reported to each family but your midwife or health visitor will be able to give you this information. If the test shows up an abnormal result, a hospital appointment will be arranged and your GP will be contacted.
This disorder affects around one in every 8,000 babies born in Scotland. Babies with this condition cannot process a substance called phenylalanine, which is present in many foods that contain protein, such as milk, meat, fish, cheese and cereals.
If PKU is detected by the test, your baby will be seen by a paediatrician as soon as possible and further tests will be carried out before a final diagnosis is made. If PKU is diagnosed, your baby must be given a special diet which will help her to develop normally. If a baby with PKU is not screened, the condition will remain undetected. Babies who have PKU and who are not treated will gradually develop brain damage that cannot be reversed. It can be fatal in some cases.
Congenital hypothyroidism (CHT)
This condition affects around one in every 3,500 babies born in Scotland. It means that a baby is born unable to produce enough of the hormone thyroxine. This hormone is vital for normal mental and physical development. It is easily treated by giving thyroxine by mouth but, if it is not detected and treated, a lack of thyroxine can lead to slower than normal growth and severe learning difficulties. It can also be fatal in some cases.
Cystic fibrosis (CF)
This is a serious inherited condition which affects one in every 2,500 babies born in Scotland. It can affect the pancreas and the lungs. Poor digestion and absorption of foods and chest infections are common problems. The majority of affected babies will be picked up by the bloodspot test but it is necessary to carry out further tests before a final diagnosis can be made.
Early treatment for cystic fibrosis may help prevent the long-term complications of this disease. It will also help affected children by maintaining good nutrition, minimising chest infections and improving quality of life.
Medium chain acyl-CoA dehydrogenase deficiency (MCADD)
About one in 10,000 babies born in Scotland has MCADD. Babies with this inherited condition have problems breaking down certain fats, in order to make energy for the body. It can lead to serious illness and in some cases even death, if the baby is not feeding regularly.
If the blood test shows that your baby may have MCADD the health professional will make arrangements for you to see a specialist doctor as soon as possible.
Sickle cell disorders (SCDs)
Sickle cell disorders are a group of inherited conditions affecting one in 2,500 babies born in the UK. They are conditions that affect the quality of the cells that carry oxygen in the blood. The blood cells of someone with an SCD change from a round to a ‘sickle’ shape, and get stuck in the small blood vessels. This can cause pain and damage to the baby’s body, serious infection, or in some cases death.
If the blood test shows that your baby has an SCD, the health professional taking care of you will make arrangements for you to see a haematologist (a doctor who specialises in treating blood disorders). Your baby will be started on treatment, including antibiotics and immunisations, to prevent serious illness.