Newborn screening can trigger parental stress

By HSC Staff Writer • Published: September 18th, 2006
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

Almost all newborn babies in the U-S have what is commonly known as heel-stick tests to screen for rare metabolic diseases before they cause irreversible damage. The test is generally done right before infants are discharged, during the first two to four days of life.

A nurse pricks the baby’s heel and takes a few drops of blood to send to a laboratory for testing. Some states only test for three or four disorders, but the March of Dimes recommends screening for twenty-nine, and some states test for all of those.

As more disorders are added to the screening, false-positive results are on the rise. A new study in the journal Pediatrics reveals that false-positive results can cause considerable stress for parents, even when their baby proves negative on retesting. Researchers say the stress could be alleviated by better education for parents and pediatricians.

The Boston research team interviewed more than one-hundred-seventy families who’d received false-positive screening results, and also surveyed a comparison group of nearly seventy families with normal newborn screening results.

Mothers in the false-positive group reported more worry about their child’s future and even rated themselves less healthy than mothers in the comparison group. More of those in the false-positive group also felt their child needed extra parental care, and many worried they didn’t feel as close to their baby as they’d expected.

Researchers suggested that improved and better-timed education of both pediatricians and patients could reduce parental stress related to newborn screening.