Universal Newborn Hearing Screening

What is Universal Newborn Hearing Screening?

Universal Newborn Hearing Screening is a mandatory test to a check a baby's hearing after birth, before leaving the hospital.

  • All babies should have their hearing tested before they leave the hospital
  • If a baby is born at home, a hearing test should be completed before he or she is 1 month old.

When a baby fails the screening tests, he or she is referred for more detailed, diagnostic hearing testing. If a hearing loss is found, hearing aids or cochlear implants may be recommended and therapy services are initiated to help the baby learn to listen and speak.


​Newborn Hearing Screening

Kathryn Beauchaine, M.A., CCC-A, Audiology Clinic Coordinator

All hospitals in the United States screen for hearing loss. These simple very relatively quick screening tests are done in the nursery usually before the babies are discharged home.

We have two methods to test newborn hearing. One is called otoacoustic emissions and the other is auditory brainstem response. The OAE or otoacoustic emission, we put a small ear probe in the baby’s ear canal and then play a sound and the ear sends back an echo. That test on a sleeping infant can take less than a minute. We test each ear. It’s important to know how the hearing is in both ears. So if the baby passes that test we wouldn’t necessarily recommend another test unless there were certain what we call risk factors for developing hearing loss later in life.

For the ABR we actually put little electrodes on the head, usually one on the forehead and one behind each ear. And then again we play a sound to the ear and we can measure the response and we are measuring the response from these little electrodes.

Both newborn screening tests​ are completely painless. They are very safe to do on newborns. They are relatively reliable, but they are a screening test. If the baby doesn’t pass the newborn screening regardless of what method is used, we will want to do a more complete test.

Why is Universal Newborn Hearing Screening Important?

It is important to identify hearing loss as early as possible because babies start learning how to use sound as soon as they are born. Listening in the first months of life prepares babies to speak. These early steps are building blocks for communication.

  • Babies start by babbling, using many of the sounds they hear spoken around them
  • By their first birthday, babies are already learning what words mean and may be saying a few words 

Babies learn to talk by listening to their families talk around them. Imagine that a baby has a hearing loss, but no one knows about it. This can lead to slow development of speech and language, leading to problems in school later in life.

Hospitals regularly screen newborn babies for a number of conditions, such as genetic disorders. Hearing loss is more common than any other problems or conditions that are screened for at birth. About one to three babies out of every 1,000 will be born with a permanent hearing loss.