Newborn hearing screening is done soon after birth to check your baby’s hearing. When hearing loss is found early, your baby can get the help they need for their speech, language, learning, social and emotional development.
About 1 in 500 babies is born without normal hearing. This is called permanent congenital hearing loss (PCHL).
Without screening, it can be hard to tell if a baby has hearing loss. Even though your baby may respond to sounds, they may not hear well enough to develop speech and language. More than half of all babies with PCHL are healthy and have no family history of hearing loss.
The earlier hearing loss is found, the sooner your baby will have support to help prevent delays in their development. If hearing loss isn’t found early, children have a high risk of having problems with speech, language, memory, learning, and social development.
It’s best to have your baby screened before they are 1 month old.
Hearing screening can be done quickly while your baby sleeps or is quiet. Younger babies spend a lot of time sleeping, so it’s easiest to screen hearing in babies who are very young.
There are 2 tests to screen for hearing loss in newborns. Learn about them by watching Early Hearing Detection and Intervention (video).
With both tests, a healthcare professional who is trained to screen hearing uses a small, soft ear probe to play quiet sounds into your baby’s ears. A computer measures how your baby’s ears respond to the sound.
Hearing screening is safe and doesn’t hurt. The sounds are quiet and the ear probes are soft.
No, you don’t have to have your baby’s hearing screened. But it’s important to talk your healthcare provider if you don’t want your baby’s hearing checked. They may give you information to help with your decision or offer resources to check your baby’s hearing.
You will get the results as soon as the screening is done. The result of the test is a pass or refer.
Your baby may get a refer result on their hearing screening because they have a permanent hearing loss or there may be temporary problems, like:
The best way to find out why your baby did not pass the hearing screening is to take them to the more specialized hearing test called a diagnostic Auditory Brainstem Response (ABR) test.
Your baby will be referred for a more specialized hearing test called a diagnostic ABR test. This test is done by a pediatric audiologist (a healthcare provider who specializes in children’s hearing) at an audiology service centre closest to you. If this appointment has not been scheduled by the time your baby is 8 weeks old, talk to your baby's healthcare provider.
The diagnostic ABR test is the best way to find out if your baby has hearing loss. The test is safe and won’t hurt your baby.
If your baby has hearing loss, you will get information about services to help your baby with their speech, language, learning, social and emotional development.
The diagnostic ABR test is done while your baby sleeps. The test is scheduled for up to 3 hours to allow time for your baby to fall asleep and to do the test. You can sit and hold your baby during the test.
Two sensors are placed on your baby’s forehead and 1 sensor is placed behind each ear. A small, soft probe will be put into each of your baby’s ears to play quiet sounds. The sensors record your baby's response to sound.
It’s important that your baby has the diagnostic ABR test when they are between 4 and 8 weeks old. The test is easiest to do in babies of this age because they sleep a lot so the test is often shorter and can be done in 1 appointment. Older babies are more alert so the test can take longer or may need to be done over several appointments.
The earlier hearing loss is found, the sooner your baby will get the services they need to support their speech, language, learning, social and emotional development.
Waiting is hard, but the diagnostic test is more accurate when your baby is at least 4 weeks old. Also, if your baby had any vernix (the white substance that covers a baby at birth) or fluid in their ears at the time of the screening, waiting gives the ears a chance to clear.
Try to bring your baby to the appointment awake but sleepy. We know it’s not easy, but your baby must be sleeping during the test. The test is scheduled for up to 3 hours to allow time for your baby to fall asleep and to do the test.
To help get your baby ready to sleep during the test:
The pediatric audiologist will talk with you about the results of the test and what they mean. Most of the time, you will get the test results on the same day as the test. If the test finds that your baby has permanent hearing loss, they may need another ABR test to better understand how your baby is hearing different sounds. You will also be referred to other specialists to help support you and your baby.
Current as of: September 23, 2021
Author: Early Hearing Detection and Intervention (EHDI) Program, Alberta Health Services
This material is not a substitute for the advice of a qualified health professional. This material is intended for general information only and is provided on an "as is", "where is" basis. Although reasonable efforts were made to confirm the accuracy of the information, Alberta Health Services does not make any representation or warranty, express, implied or statutory, as to the accuracy, reliability, completeness, applicability or fitness for a particular purpose of such information. Alberta Health Services expressly disclaims all liability for the use of these materials, and for any claims, actions, demands or suits arising from such use.