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Why does my baby need a hearing screening just after birth?

We know that one or two babies out of every 1,000 are born in the UK each year with permanent hearing loss in one or both ears, and this can seriously affect their development.

Finding out about this early gives these babies a better chance to interact with their families and build good language and communication skills.

Your baby’s hearing screening

In most hospitals throughout the UK, you will be offered a simple hearing screening for your baby shortly after birth or within the first few weeks. However, this can be done up to three months of age, so do check with a health professional.

The test takes a few minutes. It is called an automatic otoacoustic emission test (AOAE). A small earpiece is inserted into the baby’s ear and a soft clicking noise is played. When the inner ear picks up the sound, it will send information back to the machine, and be registered. The next ear is then tested.

Sometimes the machine doesn’t register a clear response and that could be due to:

  • Background noise
  • Your baby being unsettled
  • Birth fluid blocking the ear canal
  • Hearing loss

In these cases, your baby will be offered another test with the same or a different machine.

The second machine test is called an automated auditory brainstem response (AABR) and involves three small sensors being placed on your baby’s head and neck. Headphones are placed over your baby’s ears and the soft clicking sound is played.

This test takes between five and 15 minutes and does not hurt or cause your baby any harm.

You usually get the results straight away, and if the result is clear then it is unlikely that your baby will have a permanent hearing loss at this stage.

However, these tests don’t pick up all types of hearing loss, and your baby may still develop hearing problems at a later age. If you have any concerns about your child’s hearing, discuss this with a health professional.

If the screening test identifies a problem with your child’s hearing, you should be given an appointment to see a hearing specialist within four weeks of getting the results.

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Page last reviewed: 27-10-2021

Next review due: 27-10-2024