Parents of a newborn want to do everything in their power to keep their baby safe and healthy. Newborn screening is the best way to test your child for rare, but potentially fatal, diseases.
DNA testing, particularly in the case of adopted children, allows parents to prepare for the onset of a genetic disease. Oftentimes, genetic diseases can be prevented if they are diagnosed soon enough. Knowing a child’s genetic information can bring great peace of mind to parents.
How Newborn Screening Works
Within 48 hours of your child’s birth, his heel will be lightly pricked and a few drops of blood dropped onto a paper. The sample is sent to a lab, where the baby’s DNA is tested. The results of DNA testing can forewarn you about a disease or condition for which your child has a genetic predisposition.
In the case of adopted children, DNA testing is especially important. Birth records may include a child’s medical history, but it often lacks crucial information. Young parents giving their children up for adoption may not be fully aware of their family’s medical history or their individual genetic information, and may not know the family has a history of any of a number of genetic diseases.
Genetic Information and Newborn Screening Tests
Different states test for different diseases and conditions, though a parent can request expanded screening from a physician.
Newborn screening does not test for inherited traits or characteristics (like hair or eye color). The purpose of newborn screening is to discover more about the history inherited disease in a child’s family. Newborn DNA testing can screen for diseases that can be fatal, lead to mental retardation, or cause physical disability.
The four types of diseases that newborn screening test for include:
- congenital diseases
- genetic disorders
- HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus), which causes AIDS
- infectious diseases, especially those to which the mother or child might have been exposed.
Your baby may look like a happy and healthy newborn, but many genetic diseases take time to develop, and don ‘t become evident until they ‘re too far along to prevent. However, some diseases, if caught early enough, are completely preventable.
The March of Dimes suggests that all babies be tested for 29 different disorders, all of which fall into the categories above. Not all of the diseases caught by these tests are genetic, and an individual may have no family history of them at all. Testing for them is a preventive measure.
Even if your child does not develop a particular genetic disease, DNA testing can still detect a mutation in his genes. Knowing that he is a carrier of an inherited disease may be critical information if and when he decides to have children of his own. Your adopted child could pass on the genetic mutation for a disease to his descendants, whether or not he has actually developed the disease, particularly if he marries a carrier of the same mutation.
Following the DNA Tests
Your physician will probably contact you following the newborn screening test if results indicate that your baby is at risk. However, you can call and request a copy of the test, which can supplement the birth records and current medical histories.
Your doctor may recommend that your baby undergo further tests, all of which are painless to the child. A positive test result may simply be an indicator that further testing is warranted. DNA tests tend to err on the side of caution.
Newborn screening can prevent many potential health problems for a child. Taking preventive measures early can greatly reduce the effects of disease or eliminate them altogether. A simple, painless prick of a needle can provide you immeasurable peace of mind and prepare your child for his or her future.
American Association for Clinical Chemistry. (2008). Screening tests for newborns. Retrieved November 28, 2008, from the Lab Tests Online Web site: http://www.labtestsonline.org/understanding/wellness/a_newborn_1.html.
Davies, J. (2005). Newborn screening tests. Retrieved November 28, 2008, from the Center for Adoption Medicine Web site: http://www.adoptmed.org/topics/newborn-screening-tests.html.
March of Dimes Foundation. (2008). Newborn Screening Tests. Retrieved November 28, 2008, from the March of Dimes Web Site: http://www.marchofdimes.com/pnhec/298_834.asp.
March of Dimes Foundation. (2008). Recommended newborn screening tests: 29 disorders. Retrieved November 28, 2008, from the March of Dimes Web site: http://www.marchofdimes.com/professionals/14332_15455.asp.
Save Babies Through Screening Foundation, INC (2008). Answers to frequently asked questions. Retrieved November 28, 2008, from the Save Babies Through Screening Web Site: http://www.savebabies.org/NBS/faq.php.