A newborn hearing screening is a test done to make sure your baby does not have a problem hearing. The test is done by an audiologist, a person trained to identify and manage hearing problems. A newborn hearing test is usually done before a baby leaves the hospital after birth. If it is not done during the newborn period, it is usually done within the first month of life.
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The test is done to make sure that the baby does not have any hearing problems. Being able to hear well is important in a newborn’s life since a baby uses sound to assess his surroundings and to eventually learn how to speak.
Having a hearing test lets you and your baby’s doctor find out early whether your child has hearing problems, and if so, address the problems to help your child communicate as he or she gets older.
There are no major complications associated with this test.
There are no special steps to prepare for this test.
There are 2 different newborn hearing screening tests that are commonly used. Different nurseries may use 1 or both tests.
A hearing specialist called an audiologist will place a small microphone in your baby’s ear canal. The ear is then stimulated with sound, and an “echo” is measured. If an echo is detected, that is a sign that your baby is hearing fine. If there is no echo, this may be a sign of hearing loss.
The audiologist will place earphones on your baby and electrodes on his or her head. If needed, the audiologist may give a mild sedative to your baby to keep him or her calm. A sound will be sent to the earphones. The audiologist will measure the electrical activity in the part of the baby’s brain that is responsible for hearing.
Your baby’s test results are recorded. The audiologist will explain the results to you.
Each test only takes minutes to do. It may take longer if your child is restless.
There is no pain associated with these tests.
The audiologist will let you know the results soon after the test is done. If your baby does not pass the test, the audiologist may test again. Not passing does not mean that your baby definitely has hearing problems. There may have been fluid in his middle ear or wax in the ear canal that affected the hearing test. Also, crying and movement may affect test results.
Not passing the test does mean that your child will need further testing. With further testing, your doctor can figure out if there is a problem with your baby's hearing. If your baby is diagnosed with hearing loss, then your baby may be referred to specialists who can help. These specialists may include ear doctors and teachers who work with children with hearing loss.
After the test, call your baby’s doctor if you suspect that your baby may have a hearing problem. Sometimes even if a baby has a normal hearing test, they may develop hearing problems as they get older. Here are some signs of hearing problems to look for as your baby gets older:
Canadian Association of Speech-Language Pathologists and Audiologists
The Hearing Foundation of Canada
It's important to have your baby's hearing screened. National Institute of Deafness and Other Communication Disorders website. Available at: http://www.nidcd.nih.gov/health/hearing/pages/screened.aspx. Updated July 13, 2015. Accessed March 10, 2016.
Hearing evaluation in children. Kid's Health—Nemours Foundation website. Available at: http://kidshealth.org/parent/general/eyes/hear.html. Updated May 2012. Accessed March 10, 2016.
How does newborn screening testing work? Baby Hearing website. Available at: http://www.babyhearing.org/hearingamplification/newbornscreening/howscreeningworks.asp. Accessed March 20, 2018.
Joint Committee on Infant Hearing. Year 2007 position statement: principles and guidelines for early hearing detection and intervention programs. Pediatrics. 2007;120(4):898-921.
Last reviewed March 2018 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Kari Kassir, MD Last Updated: 5/5/2014