Newborn hearing screening

Newborn hearing screening is a safe and simple check to find out if your baby hears well. The screen is designed to pick up moderate to profound hearing loss. It may not pick up mild hearing loss.

Photo of a sleeping baby, with the ear cushion being placed on its head. This test is free and is usually done before you and your baby go home from hospital. If your baby is not born in a hospital or is not screened before you go home, newborn hearing screening will be offered at your local health clinic or hospital outpatients’ clinic.

Ideally, your baby will be screened within the first few days of birth and screening should be completed by the time your baby is 1 month old. However, your baby can be screened up until they are 3 months old.

In New Zealand up to 170 babies are born each year with a significant hearing loss. More than half of babies found to have a hearing loss have no family history of hearing loss or other risk factors. Without screening, it is difficult to detect hearing loss in babies until speech and language development becomes delayed.

If your baby has a hearing loss, finding it early will help their language, learning and social development.

It is your decision to have your baby screened. The Ministry of Health strongly recommends screening for your baby.

The test

The test usually takes 15–20 minutes and is best done when your baby is settled or sleeping.

The screening equipment plays a series of soft sounds into your baby’s ear through a headphone that is held gently on your baby’s head, and records the response. A computer will show how your baby’s ears respond to the sounds.

Newborn hearing screening does not hurt or harm your baby and you can be with them during screening. It is simple and safe – most babies sleep through it.

If you do not get offered newborn hearing screening for your baby, ask your midwife or doctor to refer you to your local DHB newborn hearing screeners.

Results

Most babies will pass the newborn hearing test, which means that at the time of screening they are unlikely to have a hearing loss.

Some babies need another screen because the earlier screening did not show a strong enough response in one or both ears. This may be because:

  • your baby was unsettled
  • there was too much noise in the testing room
  • there was fluid in your baby’s middle ear
  • your baby may have a hearing loss.

The repeat screen will be done either before you and your baby leave hospital, or as an outpatient appointment.

Diagnostic testing

If a clear response is unable to be obtained then the newborn hearing screener will refer your baby to an audiologist (hearing specialist) for more testing. You should have your first appointment with the audiologist within 4 weeks.

An audiologist will do a range of diagnostic tests to test your baby’s responses to low, middle and high-pitched sounds. The audiologist will explain to you in detail each of your baby’s hearing tests and what the results may mean. In most cases the outcome will be explained to you at this appointment.

Treatment

If the test shows your baby has a hearing loss, the audiologist will talk with you about the help available to your family and whānau. Together, you can plan what you would like to do next. It is best to start planning as soon as possible to help your baby develop language, learning and social skills

The kind of help your baby and you will be offered depends on your baby’s hearing levels.

It might include:

  • support and education about hearing loss and helping your child to learn
  • information on devices such as hearing aids and cochlear implants
  • different ways of communicating, like sign language.

Ministry of Education advisors on deaf children have training and experience in supporting young children with hearing loss and their parents and families/whānau.

Monitoring your baby’s hearing

Some babies who pass their hearing screen or diagnostic testing may develop a hearing loss later. It is important that you continue to monitor your child’s hearing.

If you have concerns about your child’s hearing you should talk to your midwife, GP, Well Child provider or early childhood teacher. There are checklists in the Well Child/Tamariki Ora Health Book to help you figure out if your baby can hear well.

Risk factors

Sometimes it is recommended that your baby has another hearing test when they are a little older, even though their screening result was a ‘pass’. This is because there are some types of hearing loss which develop over time. This could be due to risk factors such as infection during pregnancy, certain conditions your baby has inherited or treatment your baby receives post birth.

You will be told at the time of screening if and why a follow-up appointment with an audiologist is necessary. If a further appointment is needed, it does not mean your baby will develop a hearing loss but it is best that your baby’s hearing is monitored by an audiologist.


Related websites

Your Baby’s Hearing Screening – HealthEd
A resource explaining the benefits of newborn hearing screening and how it is done. Also available in Māori, Sāmoan, Tongan, simplified Chinese, traditional Chinese, Hindi and Korean.

Newborn Screening Hearing Results – HealthEd
A resource for parents whose children have passed newborn hearing screening, including a checklist to keep monitoring their baby’s hearing. Also available in Māori, Sāmoan, Tongansimplified Chinese, traditional Chinese, Hindi and Korean.

Referral to an Audiologist – HealthEd
A resource explaining why further hearing screening tests may be required, how they are done, and what help is available if your baby has a hearing loss. Also available in Māori, Sāmoan, Tongansimplified Chinese, traditional Chinese, Hindi and Korean.

What is Mild Hearing Loss? – National Screening Unit
A factsheet for parents whose children have been diagnosed with mild hearing loss.

What is Unilateral Hearing Loss? – National Screening Unit
A factsheet for parents whose children have been diagnosed with unilateral hearing loss.

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