Hearing tests – babies

Babies and children can have temporary or permanent hearing loss. This loss may be slight to severe. If your child can't hear properly, this can affect their learning, concentration and communication. Early diagnosis is key to limiting these effects, so a newborn hearing test is offered to all babies within the first month of life.

Why is there a hearing test for babies?

Being able to hear well is important for learning how to speak as well as for learning and social development. The sooner any hearing problem is picked up in a baby or child, the sooner you can get treatment for any hearing conditions that are able to be corrected. 

This screening programme started in New Zealand in 2007 after similar programmes overseas showed strong benefits.

How is hearing tested in babies?

The test used to screen newborns for hearing loss is called an automated auditory brainstem response (aABR) screening test. 

  • The aABR screen test is used for all babies.
  • The test measures whether your baby's ears are responding to sounds, and whether their brain is responding to that sound.
  • Babies who do not pass the first screen have a second aABR screen before being referred to an audiologist (a healthcare professional who specialises in hearing) for diagnosis.

What happens during the hearing test for babies?

  • Small sensors are placed on your baby's forehead, and below and above an ear.
  • A cushioned ear piece is placed over one ear at a time and a chirping sound is played through this.
  • The sensors on your baby's head pick up the response from your baby's hearing nerve.
  • A computer measures the response and provides a result.
  • The test takes about 15–20 minutes and will not cause your baby any pain.
  • A second test will be offered if the results from the first test are unclear.

When should my baby have a hearing test?

Most babies are screened before they leave hospital for the first time. If this doesn’t happen, you should ask your midwife or family doctor to help organise a screening for your baby. Ideally, this should be done before your baby is one month old.

In New Zealand, the programme is provided free of charge for eligible babies.

Are there any risks to my baby of the hearing test?

There are no risks to your baby with this test.

Learn more

Universal Newborn Hearing Screening Programme National Screening Unit, NZ, 2014

Credits: Health Navigator Editorial Team.