You’ve heard about the APGAR test, one done on all newborn babies to determine their overall health related to their muscle tone, breathing, skin colour, reflexes and heart rate. But did you know that your newborn should also undergo a hearing screening to detect any issues?

According to this article, “between four and six out of every 1000 South African children will be born with, or develop, hearing loss in their first few weeks of life.”

Picking up any potential issues will help significantly in terms of addressing the problem and then providing interventions, so that your baby’s development is hindered as little as possible by their condition.

Why does hearing matter though?

Well, in the first three years of your baby’s life, your child’s brain is developing and maturing, and the language and speech they hear around them is critical for this development. Hearing issues can affect literacy, language development, overall communication, socialisation and physical co-ordination, among other things.

That’s why some medical aids like Fedhealth pay for infant hearing screenings from Risk (any time in the first eight weeks of life), to ensure that your child gets the best possible start.

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What happens in a newborn hearing screening?

Don’t worry, it’s completely painless to your little one, and can even be done while your baby is sleeping. Electrodes are attached to the baby’s head which then measure the responses by the auditory nerves to sounds which are sent through some earphones.

It will measure these responses to various ranges of frequency and pitch and this will then be formulated into a report. Bear in mind that sometimes your baby may fail the screening due to other factors such as vernix or fluid in the ear, and it doesn’t necessarily mean that your baby has hearing problems. You should then set up further tests with your doctor to assess this.

Why does hearing loss in babies happen?

There are a number of things that can cause hearing loss in little ones:

  • Your baby was born prematurely or is underweight
  • There is a family history of childhood hearing loss
  • There were complications at birth, and they were admitted to a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU)
  • They had serious jaundice and needed a blood transfusion
  • They’ve had frequent ear infections, meningitis or measles
  • Infections passes from mother to baby in the womb (such as measles or herpes) can also have an impact
  • They were exposed to very loud sounds or noises – even for a short amount of time

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Signs to look out for as your baby grows up

Just because your baby passed the newborn screening doesn’t mean they’ll never have hearing issue as toddlers, children or even adults. Here are some signs to look out for:

  • They don’t startle at loud noises or turn toward sounds.
  • They don’t respond to their parents’ or caregiver’s voices.
  • They don’t seem to enjoy being read to.
  • They are slow to begin talking, hard to understand, or don’t say words like “dada” or “mama” by around 12 months old.
  • They have trouble holding their head steady or are slow to sit or walk (sometimes the part of the inner ear that helps with balance and movement of the head is also damaged).
  • If you’re concerned about any of these signs, then it’s best to book an appointment with your medical provider so that they can conduct further auditory tests and advise on the best next steps.

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