Hearing tests – babies

Babies and children can have temporary or permanent hearing loss. If your child can't hear properly, this can affect their learning, concentration and communication. For this reason, 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 impairment is picked up in a baby or child, the sooner they can get any treatment or support they need. 

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 provider 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 earpiece 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 doesn't cause your baby any pain.
  • A second test is 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, ask your midwife or family doctor to help organise a screening for your baby. Ideally, this should be done before your baby is 1month 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.

What factors increase a baby's risk of developing a hearing impairment?

Sometimes it is recommended that a baby’s hearing is tested again when they are older, even though their screening result was a ‘pass’. This is because there are some types of hearing loss that develop over time. 

There are some factors that increase a baby’s risk of developing hearing impairment in later childhood. These include:

  • if you had certain infections during your pregnancy
  • babies born with certain congenital or inherited conditions
  • if your baby has had some types of infections
  • if your baby needed certain medications or treatments in their first few days
  • if your baby has had treatment in neonatal care (NICU) or special baby care. 

If this is the case, your baby will be referred to Audiology for follow up.

Learn more

Universal Newborn Hearing Screening Programme National Screening Unit, NZ

References

  1. Yoshinaga-Itano C. Early intervention after universal neonatal hearing screening: impact on outcomes Ment Retard Dev Disabil Res Rev. 2003;9(4):252-66. 
  2. About the test National Screening Unit, NZ, 2016
Credits: Health Navigator Editorial Team. Reviewed By: Zoe Hector, Clinical Audiologist, Researcher & Social Entrepreneur, Christchurch Last reviewed: 11 Jan 2021