We offer the heel prick screen to all newborn babies. This is usually when they are between 3 and 5 days old.
A midwife or public health nurse (PHN) does the screen in hospital or at your home.
They take a small sample of blood from your baby's heel. This is why we call it a heel prick.
Laboratory staff then check your baby’s blood for 9 rare but serious conditions:
- cystic fibrosis (CF)
- congenital hypothyroidism (CHT)
- phenylketonuria (PKU)
- classical galactosaemia (C Gal)
- glutaric aciduria type 1 (GA1)
- medium-chain acyl-CoA dehydrogenase deficiency (MCADD)
- homocystinuria (HCU)
- maple syrup urine disease (MSUD)
- adenosine deaminase deficiency severe combined immunodeficiency (ADA-SCID)
These are all conditions that affect chemical processes in the body.
The heel prick is free and 99.9% of parents in Ireland agree to have their babies screened.
Most babies born in Ireland will not have any of the 9 conditions that the heel prick checks for.
Why we screen at 3 to 5 days
We need to wait until your baby has been feeding for a few days before we can screen them. Otherwise the results may not be accurate.
Some of the conditions can make your baby sick very fast. So it is best to have the heel prick done before your baby is over 5 days old.
Benefits of heel prick screening
These 9 conditions are very rare, but for any baby that has any of these conditions the benefits of screening are enormous.
Screening for these conditions and catching them early means your baby can start treatment as soon as possible.
- improve their health
- help prevent severe disability or death from the condition
Most of the conditions we screen for show no obvious signs and symptoms immediately after birth. Often there is no family history.
Screening helps find these conditions before your baby has any symptoms.
Without screening these conditions may not be obvious until later on.
Limitations of heel prick screening
The main limitations of heel prick screening are it:
- will not detect all conditions screened for
- does not make a diagnosis
Like all screening, the heel prick is not 100% accurate. It does not make a diagnosis. It can only suggest that a baby is at high risk of having 1 or more of the conditions screened for. This is called a ‘screen positive’.
Your maternity unit will contact you if the heel prick suggests that your baby is at risk of having any of the 9 conditions we screen for. They will refer your baby for further tests.
Non-urgent advice: Speak to your GP if:
- you have any concerns about your baby
- symptoms appear that you feel worried about
Heel prick information in other languages
We have leaflets on the heel prick screen. It is available in 15 languages.