You might have heard of the ‘heel prick’ test – also known as a ‘Guthrie’, ‘PKU’ or newborn metabolic test – where a small blood sample is taken from baby’s heel, ideally between 48 and 72 hours after baby is born. This is strongly recommended by the Ministry of Health’s National Screening Unit.

The heel prick test checks to see if your baby has increased risk of having one of the disorders tested for (currently over 20 conditions). If we test for these disorders this soon after your baby’s born, the disorders can be identified before a baby gets sick and when treatment may be able to make a big difference.

What you might not know is that the heel prick test is still well worth doing even if your baby seems totally healthy. That’s because without testing, these potentially serious disorders may not be found.

The good news is, these disorders are rare – almost all babies born in New Zealand each year are tested (around 64,000) and out of all these babies, only around 45 babies are identified as having a metabolic disorder. And early treatment can prevent potentially serious complications that can cause permanent damage to your baby, or even death.

The test can be done at the hospital or birthing centre, at home or even at the testing laboratory, and is usually done by a midwife or doctor, or by a trained blood taker. The sample itself is taken by using a lancet to make a tiny cut in baby’s heel. Small drops of blood are then collected on a card, then sent to the laboratory for testing.

heel prick test

Of course, no one likes being pricked to have blood drawn. But the heel prick test is over very quickly and the benefits far outweigh the brief discomfort for your baby. And there are things you can do to minimise any unpleasantness, such as making sure baby’s feet are warm before the test and feeding or cuddling your baby while the blood is being taken. If you’ve got any concerns at all, your midwife or doctor is there to help.

You can choose to have the blood spot card returned to you after testing is finished or the card can be securely stored by the laboratory.

Remember, you have the right to decide whether or not your baby has testing. If you’d like any more information about the heel prick test, have a chat to your midwife or doctor or visit the National Screening Unit’s website at nsu.govt.nz 

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This information was compiled by the Kiwi Families team.

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