Newborn screening

During the first few weeks after your baby is born, they will be offered a blood spot screening test and hearing screening test form the Northern Ireland Newborn Screening Programmes.

Newborn hearing screening programme (NHSP)

Coronavirus (COVID-19)

Newborn hearing screening continues to be provided during the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Inpatients

If you, or your baby, are in hospital and are being tested, or have tested positive for Covid-19, or have symptoms associated with the virus, newborn hearing screening will be deferred and you will be offered this screening at a later date.

Outpatients

If you, or your baby, are being tested, or have tested positive for Covid-19, or have symptoms associated with the virus, do not attend for an arranged outpatient newborn hearing screening appointment.

Contact your healthcare provider immediately, to arrange a follow up appointment.

The aim of the programme

The aim of the programme is to identify babies born with a permanent childhood hearing impairment (PCHI) at an early stage, to allow timely intervention and improved outcomes.

Approximately one to two babies in every 1,000 are born with a permanent hearing loss in one or both ears.

This screening test is recommended for your baby, even if there is no history of hearing loss in your family.

Finding hearing loss (in one or both ears) early is important for your baby’s development.

The screening test

A baby having its hearing tested as part of newborn screening

Two types of newborn hearing screening tests are provided:

  • an Automated Otoacoustic Emission (AOAE) test
  • an Automated Auditory Brainstem Response (AABR) test

The type of test that a baby requires, and is offered, will depend on which screening protocol is applicable and the results of the initial screening test.

Automated Otoacoustic Emission (AOAE) test

The AOAE screening test involves placing a small, soft tipped earpiece in the outer part of a baby’s ear to send clicking sounds to the inner ear. 

Using a computer, the person carrying out the test can see how the baby’s inner ear responds to sound. (If there are no clear responses in one or both ears, following up to x2 AOAE screening tests, an AABR test is then carried out).

If clear responses are not found, the infant is referred to audiology services for diagnostic tests and further follow up.

Automated Auditory Brainstem Response (AABR) test

An AABR is only required in certain circumstances, for example, if a baby does not have a clear response in one or both ears with AOAE testing, or has been admitted to a neonatal intensive care or special care baby unit.

The AABR is a different type of test that measures electrical brain activity (rather than measuring acoustic energy within the inner ear).

This screening test involves placing small sensors on a baby’s head, shoulder and nape of the neck. Soft headphones are placed over baby’s ears and a series of clicking sounds are played. A computer measures how the baby’s ears respond to these sounds.

Ongoing vigilance

As always, throughout the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, the person with parental responsibility should continue to be vigilant and check baby’s hearing, as they grow up, using the checklist contained in the Personal Child Health Record (‘PCHR / red book’). 

Any concerns about your baby’s hearing should be discussed with your health visitor or GP.

Further information can be found at:

Further information is also available in the newborn hearing screening leaflets on the Public Health Agency website.

Newborn blood spot screening

Newborn blood spot screening will continue throughout the Covid-19 pandemic.  However, there have been some changes made to how you receive postnatal care.  You may be asked to take your baby into your local health centre or clinic for blood spot screening.  This will depend on what Trust you are from. Your midwife will discuss this with you.

Additional advice on COVID-19 for pregnant women and parents in Northern Ireland is available on the NI Maternity website.

In the first week after birth, all babies in Northern Ireland are offered screening for a range of inherited conditions including:

  • phenylketonuria (PKU)
  • congenital hypothyroidism (CHT)
  • cystic fibrosis (CF)
  • medium chain acyl coA dehydrogenase deficiency (MCADD)
  • sickle cell disorders (SCD)

From March 2020 this will also include the offer of screening for:

  • maple syrup urine disease (MSUD)
  • isovaleric acidaemia (IVA)
  • glutaric aciduria type1 (GA1)
  • homocystinuria (HCU)

baby's foot being held during newborn blood sport screening

This is often referred to as the ‘heel prick’ test. Most babies screened will not have any of these conditions but, for the small number who do, the benefits of screening are substantial.

The programme makes a major contribution to the prevention of disability and death in our community, through early diagnosis and effective interventions. It is important to let your health professional know if you, or your partner, has a family history of the conditions screened for.

Newborn blood spot screening is a complex programme, involving a wide range of services, from highly specialised laboratories through to individual staff in the community and in hospitals, working closely together.

The Public Health Agency and partner organisations are responsible for ensuring that the population has access to safe, effective, high quality and equitable screening programmes. As part of this function for newborn blood spot screening, the Northern Ireland programme participates in a national (UK) system of quality assurance and performance management.

Further information is available in the programme leaflet:

Newborn hearing and blood spot screening are recommended. It is also important that if, at any stage, you have any concerns about your child’s health or their hearing, you should  discuss these with a health professional such as your health visitor or general practitioner.

Physical examination

All babies will be offered a routine physical examination to check their hips, heart, eyes and testes (for boys) within the first few days of life and again between six to eight weeks of age.

These examinations aim to find any health conditions or abnormalities so that any tests or treatment required can be offered to your baby as soon as possible.

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