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Newborn Blood Spot Screening

Newborn blood spot screening

​​​​​​​​​​​​​​Babies born in Alberta are tested for certain treatable conditions after birth. This screening test is different from those done during pregnancy.

Newborn blood spot screening is provided through Alberta’s Newborn Metabolic Screening (NMS) Program within Alberta Health Services (AHS). The program helps your baby have the best start in life. Early screening for certain conditions makes sure your baby gets treatment when it can help the most.

What is a newborn blood spot screen?

This is a blood test done on newborn babies to find out if your baby is at risk of having a certain treatable condition that you, your doctor, or midwife can’t see by just looking at your baby.

Finding and treating these conditions early can help prevent health problems. This can improve your baby’s overall health and may even save your baby’s life.

What conditions does the newborn blood spot screen look for?

This screening test looks for treatable conditions that include:

  • metabolic conditions - cause problems with how your body uses food to make and store energy
  • endocrine conditions - cause problems with how your body makes hormones
  • cystic fibrosis - causes problems with how you breathe and digest food
  • sickle cell disease - affects your blood and causes damage to heart, lungs, and kidneys
  • severe combined immunodeficiency - affects your ability to fight infections
  • spinal muscular atrophy - causes muscle weakness, including weakness that gets worse over time (wasting) (screening for spinal muscular atrophy is part of a 1-year pilot program starting in 2022)

What causes these conditions?

These conditions are often genetic. Usually babies are born with them when they inherit a gene, which has a change in it, from both parents. This change stops the gene from working properly. Sometimes the conditions can happen for no reason. The treatable conditions aren’t caused by anything that happened during pregnancy.

There may be no signs of these conditions at birth. It’s important to remember that many conditions can’t be seen by looking at your baby.

What happens during newborn blood spot screening?

The screening has 3 steps:

  1. Collecting a few drops of blood from a heel poke.
  2. Testing the blood for certain treatable conditions.
  3. Helping your baby get more tests and treatment if they need it.

When should this screening be done?

The best time for the newborn blood spot screen is when your baby is between 24 and 72 hours old. Ideally, the blood spot screen happens at the hospital before your baby goes home. It’s important to find these conditions as early as possible.

What will the screen results show?

The screen results show if:

  • your baby’s screen is normal
  • your baby needs to have the screen done again
  • your baby needs more tests to find out if they have one of the treatable conditions

What if I have more questions about the screen?

Talk to your public health nurse, doctor, or midwife if you have any questions about your baby's health or newborn blood spot screening. You can also learn more about the Alberta Health Services Newborn Metabolic Screening Program.

Is my baby’s privacy protected?

Yes, health information is collected, used, and shared (disclosed) by following the laws of Alberta’s Health Information Act. Your baby’s health information is protected in a secure, private, and confidential place.

Current as of: February 28, 2022

Author: Alberta's Newborn Metabolic Screening Program, Alberta Health Services