Tests and medicines for newborn babies
In Australia, you will generally be offered a number of tests and medicines for your newborn baby during the first few days of their life.
The decision to test your baby or to give your baby medicines is yours, so it is a good idea to understand what they are for. Your verbal permission will be required for any tests, special treatments or medicines that are to be given to your baby.
If you don’t understand why the test or treatment is necessary, ask for more information or further explanation.
Newborn vitamin K
Vitamin K is needed to help the blood clot and to prevent bleeding.
Babies do not get enough vitamin K from their mothers during pregnancy or from breast milk. Newborns can be deﬁcient in vitamin K for the ﬁrst eight days of life.
Without enough vitamin K a baby is at risk of developing a rare disorder called Vitamin K Deficiency Bleeding or VKDB, which can cause them to bleed into their brain. This condition can also lead to death.
The recommendation, based on current research, is that babies are given an injection with a single dose of vitamin K within a few hours of birth.
As an alternative to the injection, some services may offer vitamin K orally. Vitamin K is not absorbed as well using this method and so it is necessary to give the baby several doses over a period of time.
Babies in Australia have been receiving vitamin K for over 30 years without any known problems. The National Health and Research Council in Australia has thoroughly investigated claims, made in some studies, that there may be a link between vitamin K and childhood cancers and found that there is no association.
The hepatitis B virus can lead to chronic liver problems and liver cancers. A newborn baby has a very high risk of getting hepatitis B from their mother, who may or may not know that she is infected. It is spread by infected blood and other body ﬂuids such as saliva.
The recommendation in Australia is that all babies are immunised soon after birth. This is called universal vaccination. The primary reason for universal vaccination is that women may not know they are infected. Some women will not have been screened for the virus and others may have been screened and the virus was not picked up. The other reason for universal vaccination is that a high percentage of people who are found to have hepatitis B are people who are not in the known high risk category for infection.
You will usually be offered a hepatitis B vaccine for your baby before you leave hospital but to be fully vaccinated, your baby will need further doses up to the age of four. If you are known to be hepatitis B positive your baby will need an immunoglobulin injection while in hospital, this will give your baby added and immediate protection from hepatitis B.
The decision to have your baby immunised rests with you. For more information about immunisation visit the Better Health Channel's page on childhood immunisation.
Newborn screening test
Some babies are born with rare diseases, which can cause very serious complications. However, if these diseases are found and treated soon after birth, the baby will grow and develop normally. For this reason, a screening test is offered for all newborn babies.
This test screens for:
- congenital hypothyroidism
- cystic fibrosis
- amino acid disorders e.g. Phenylketonuria (PKU)
- fatty acid oxidation disorders
- other rare metabolic disorders.
About the test
A doctor or midwife will prick the baby’s heel to produce a small amount of blood; this is usually done when baby is between 48 and 72 hours old. Four small spots of blood are taken and put on a piece of blotting card. These are tested for the conditions mentioned above. If the results are normal, you will not be contacted. This is the case for more than 99 per cent of babies. If your baby is found to have a medical condition, you will be contacted and referred to a specialist for tests and treatment. Parents must give written consent for this test to be done.
In Victoria, your baby’s card is stored indefinitely with the Victorian Clinical Genetics Service (VCGS). If you like, you can request to have it returned to you after two years. If you have given written consent, your baby’s card may be used for health research during those first two years. The card cannot be used for research without your written consent. If your baby’s card is used for research during this time, any information that identifies your baby will be removed.
For families in Victoria, if you want more information about tests, or storage of your baby’s blood samples ask your doctor or midwife or contact VCGS.
This is a routine health check offered for all babies soon after birth. Like all other screening tests it needs to be done with your permission. A small number of babies are born with a hearing loss, which could affect their speech and language skills. Hearing loss may not be obvious in the ﬁrst few weeks of life, but can be detected by a hearing screen. You will be given the results as soon as the screen is completed.
Ongoing hearing tests are also a part of the care you would receive through a Maternal and Child Health nurse.
The Women’s does not accept any liability to any person for the information or advice (or use of such information or advice) which is provided on the Website or incorporated into it by reference. The Women’s provide this information on the understanding that all persons accessing it take responsibility for assessing its relevance and accuracy. Women are encouraged to discuss their health needs with a health practitioner. If you have concerns about your health, you should seek advice from your health care provider or if you require urgent care you should go to the nearest Emergency Dept.