Shortly after your baby is born, your doctor or health care provider will test for a number of genetic disorders and health problems. What tests will be done depends on the state in which you live and the facility where you deliver; most states require screening for eight to ten genetic disorders.
If you are happy with the testing provided in your state -- and if you deliver in a hospital -- then you don't have to do anything extra: Your baby will receive this testing automatically. If you want more than the minimum that your state requires, however, you will have to do a little legwork.
Probably the easiest way to find out what types of tests your state requires is to ask your doctor or midwife. But if you don't want to wait for your next appointment, you can log onto the website of the National Newborn Screening and Genetics Resource Center at http://genes-r-us.uthscsa.edu/resources/consumer/statemap.htm. There, you will find state-specific newborn screening information and a link to your state's newborn screening program website.
Although most states require only a handful of tests, a panel of experts convened by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the March of Dimes recommends newborns be screened for 30 genetic disorders, including hypothyroidism, cystic fibrosis, and sickle cell anemia. All of the disorders can be detected through a simple blood test, and many can be treated relatively easily -- by changing a baby's diet, for example, or by feeding a baby more frequently.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the March of Dimes, and the American Academy of Pediatrics also recommend that, in addition to genetic testing, all newborns be tested for early hearing loss before leaving the hospital.
To learn more about recommended newborn testing: The March of Dimes, an organization whose mission is to prevent birth defects and infant mortality, provides information about newborn screening on its website at www.marchofdimes.com/pnhec/298_834.asp.
If you would like your baby to be tested for more disorders than your state law currently requires, discuss this with your doctor or midwife. See whether you can make arrangements with a laboratory for supplemental newborn screening. The cost is quite low. For example, the Institute of Metabolic Disease at Baylor University will test your newborn for 30 genetic disorders for about $25. You can find a list of organizations that offer supplemental newborn screening at the National Newborn Screening and Genetics Resource Center's website at http://genes-r-us.uthscsa.edu.
For more information on this and other topics of interest to new parents, read Parent Savvy: Straight Answers to Your Family's Financial, Legal & Practical Questions , by Nihara Choudhri (Nolo).