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Pulse oximetry screening of newborn babies

What is pulse oximetry?

Pulse oximetry screening is a quick, simple test that does not hurt your baby. It tells us your baby's pulse rate and the amount of oxygen in your baby's blood.

Why is it being done?

This screen can detect serious heart conditions that are not picked up by ultrasound during your pregnancy or a clinical examination of your baby.

How is my baby screened?

A small sensor is placed around your baby's right wrist and the connecting cord is attached to the blood oxygen level reading monitor – an oximeter. The sensor shines a red light through your baby’s skin and tissues. 

The oximeter will analyse your baby's blood oxygen level within a few minutes. The same test will then be repeated on one of your baby's feet. 

This screen can be done while you are holding and/or feeding your baby.

When will my baby be screened?


Your baby will be screened before you both baby leave the hospital. Usually the screening will be carried out after you have been transferred to the postnatal floor, but sometimes it will occur before discharge from Birth Suite/recovery from theatre.

Do I need to give consent?

After reading this information and discussing it with your doctor or midwife, you will be asked to provide your verbal consent for the screening to be carried out.

When will I know the result?

You will be told the results immediately and they will also be documented in your baby’s medical record.

What happens if the reading is not normal?

Low oxygen levels can occur in normal newborn babies as they are adapting after birth. If a repeat test shows a normal result, then there are no concerns with your baby.

If repeat screening continues to show low oxygen levels a doctor will come and review your baby. It may be necessary for your baby to be admitted to the Neonatal Critical Care Unit.

  • Low oxygen levels can also occur in babies with respiratory distress and infection.
  • It is important to rule out serious cardiac conditions.
  • Your baby may need further investigations.

Will this pick up all serious heart conditions?

Pulse oximetry screening is designed to detect heart conditions that are associated with a low oxygen level in the baby’s blood. Not all serious heart conditions will do this; therefore, it is important to continue seeing your local doctor/practice nurse for well-child checks as per your baby's red book.

If you have any concerns about your baby’s health, please contact your local doctor promptly.

Further information

If you would like more information please contact your local doctor, midwife or nurse.

Mater acknowledges consumer consultation in the development of this patient information.
Mater Doc Num: PI-CLN-430184
Last modified 05/6/2020.
Consumers were consulted in the development of this patient information.
Last consumer engagement date: 04/6/2020
For further translated health information, you can visit healthtranslations.vic.gov.au/ supported by the Victorian Department of Health and Human Services that offers a range of patient information in multiple languages.
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