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Screening Newborns

Effective July 1, Idaho medical providers will screen all newborns for critical congenital heart disease (CCHD) as part of the panel of required screenings in the state.


Congenital heart defects are the most common type of birth defect and can range from mild to very serious. The very serious heart defects are referred to as critical congenital heart disease, which includes a collection of defects that are present at birth and involve structural problems in the heart or problems with blood flow through the heart. Congenital heart defects account for up to 30 percent of infant deaths caused by birth defects. In Idaho, an estimated 55 babies are born each year with critical congenital heart disease.

Babies born with critical congenital heart disease may appear to be healthy at first, which means they may be sent home with their families before their heart defect is detected. These babies are at risk for having serious complications within those first few days or weeks and often require emergency care.

“Newborn screening helps give babies the best start in life,” said Jacquie Watson, Maternal and Child Health Section Manager in the Division of Public Health. “Early identification and treatment of these serious heart defects means that more babies will live to celebrate their first birthdays and will continue to thrive as they reach other important milestones.”

Research shows that states with mandatory critical congenital heart defect screening policies had significantly fewer infant cardiac deaths. State adoption of mandatory screening has been linked with a 33 percent decline in infant deaths caused by critical congenital heart defect compared with states without mandatory screening.

In Idaho, newborns are required to be screened for 48 harmful or potentially fatal conditions. In addition to critical congenital heart disease, other conditions screened for include phenylketonuria (PKU), cystic fibrosis, and congenital hypothyroidism.

Forty-seven of the 48 conditions are screened using just a few drops of blood. The screening for critical congenital heart disease is a non-invasive assessment called pulse oximetry that measures oxygen saturation in a baby’s blood 24 to 48 hours after delivery. Without early detection and intervention, babies with critical congenital heart disease have higher rates of mortality or can experience significant disability later in life such as organ damage and physical and cognitive impairments.

The Newborn Screening Program has been ensuring screening of Idaho babies since 1963. While each of the screened conditions is rare, collectively they affect about 1 in 1,000 infants. For more information about the Newborn Screening Program, visit



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