Understanding Newborn Hearing Screening

Your baby’s brain needs sound right away in order to be activated, and then to grow the neural connections that will help them learn spoken language. You need to know that if hearing loss has blocked the doorway, there are medical and technological ways to get auditory information through the doorway to your baby’s brain. So newborn hearing screening, as soon after birth as possible, is the first step to make sure auditory information from the environment is getting to your baby’s brain.

UNDERSTANDING NEWBORN HEARING SCREENING

As an expectant parent, you have a lot to do to prepare for the birth of your baby. Maybe you have conversations with your doctor about what to expect at birth, spend time learning about how to care for your newborn, and choose a special name for your baby. But many parents are not aware that their newborn will have a hearing screening before they leave the hospital. This simple test can have a major impact on your baby’s future.

You need to know that your baby can hear. You need to know if your baby’s hearing doorway to their brain is fully open. Good hearing – a clear pathway through the ears to the brain – is important for speech, language, and reading development. You don’t want your baby to miss out on the sounds and spoken language that surround them. Hearing is your baby’s connection to the everyday sounds of talking, singing, and reading. These are the building blocks for learning to listen and talk and doing well in school.

As you leave the hospital, you have many things on your mind, but make sure your baby had their hearing screening and that you know the results. Know the status of your baby’s hearing first, so you can grow their future.

Hearing is your baby’s connection to the everyday sounds of talking, singing, and reading. These are the building blocks for learning to listen, talk, and write, and doing well in school.


ASK FOR A HEARING SCREENING

In most states in the United States, babies receive a newborn hearing screening in the hospital shortly after birth. In fact, more than 95% of all newborn babies in the U.S. receive a hearing screening. Most states have a mandated newborn hearing screening program. Because this screening is very important to your baby’s auditory brain development, you should ask about the screening or have your child screened within their first month after birth. Your pediatrician or family doctor can help you schedule these services.


HOW THE NEWBORN HEARING SCREENING IS DONE

A newborn hearing screening is the first step to identify the hearing status of babies. Hearing loss can have a significant impact on early brain development for listening, spoken language, and reading. The screening gives parents the opportunity to know as soon as possible that their baby can hear – that the baby’s doorway to their brain is fully open for sound or auditory information.

During a newborn hearing screening, your baby’s hearing will be checked using one or two gentle tests. These tests can be done when your baby is asleep and is usually performed in your hospital room or infant nursery by persons trained to use the specialized screening machines.

Each of these tests provides information about your baby’s hearing. One test, called the auditory brainstem response (ABR), will determine if the nerves in your baby’s ears are sending sound to their brain. The other test, called an otoacoustic emission test (OAE), will determine if your baby’s inner ear (cochlea) is working properly. The specific test used to screen your baby will depend on what’s chosen by the hospital screening program where your baby will be delivered.

You should receive the results of your baby’s hearing screening before you leave the hospital, and you’ll be given information to follow up with a second screening if your baby does not pass. If your baby does not pass, you’ll want to know which test was used.


See what happens during an actual newborn hearing screening.

See what happens during an actual newborn hearing screening. See more

(Source: Boys Town National Research Hospital)

Hearing Screening

WHO: Newborn babies or infants

WHAT: A hearing screening gently tests an infant's ability to hear sounds - it identifies if the auditory doorway to the brain is completely open and clear

WHEN: As soon as possible after birth; can even be done as the baby sleeps

WHERE: Hospital or audiological facility

WHY: Screening determines if a newborn or infant needs more hearing testing to determine the exact condition of the doorway/ear


MY BABY PASSED THE NEWBORN HEARING SCREENING

Now that you know the results of the hearing screening, you can begin caring for and communicating with your baby. Your baby’s brain has been receiving sound even before they were born. Research tells us that babies start hearing about 20 weeks before birth, which is why most babies recognize their parents’ voices so quickly. You can help your baby learn to listen and talk by talking, singing, and reading to your baby from Day One. As your child grows and develops, talk to your pediatrician if you have concerns. A hearing screening, or any hearing test, tells us the baby’s hearing at that single point in time – it’s a “snapshot” of the baby’s hearing doorway. Hearing loss can occur at a later time for a variety of reasons. So, passing the newborn hearing screening does not imply that your baby’s auditory doorway will always be fully open.

Keep in mind, children who have ear infections or other illnesses may need to have their hearing rescreened, especially before they begin preschool. Any blockage in the ear doorway interferes with auditory information reaching the brain.


MY BABY DIDN'T PASS THE NEWBORN HEARING SCREENING

If your baby didn’t pass the hearing screening, they will be referred for further testing within the first month after birth to determine what is going on in your baby’s ear. Some hospitals provide rescreening, while others may refer you to a pediatric audiologist for rescreening and more comprehensive hearing testing. Either way, many families find it helpful to schedule a follow-up appointment before they ever leave the hospital. The hospital screening program or attending pediatrician can point you in the right direction for services in your area.

It’s important that you respond quickly to schedule a rescreening. You do not want to wait. If your baby needs hearing technology, like hearing aids, to get auditory information through the doorway to your baby’s brain, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend being fitted as soon as possible but no later than 3 months of age. Many hearing professionals highly recommend getting fitted sooner – even within 6 weeks after birth in order to activate your baby’s auditory brain pathways. Act quickly so your baby will not miss out on early experiences that are key to successful listening, talking, pre-reading skills, and early brain development.

“If a child has an undiagnosed hearing loss during the first few months of life, they miss this window of opportunity to naturally be hearing and learning the sounds of speech, even though they’re not saying any of those sounds back.”

Dr. Patti Martin, Director of Audiology and Speech Pathology at Arkansas Children’s Hospital

See what else Dr. Patti Martin, a newborn hearing screening thought leader, has to say about rescreening and when to do it.

Listen to the podcast or read the transcript.