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My Baby's Hearing - What I need to know

baby's hearingResearch has shown that the earlier hearing loss is diagnosed and intervention started, the better the child's future language development. Sadly, in reality the average age for the detection of a hearing loss is often as late as two years of age.

In the first few years of life, hearing is a critical part of a child's social, emotional and cognitive development. Even a mild or partial hearing loss can affect a child's ability to speak and understand language. Hearing loss is a fairly common occurrence, with approximately 1 out of every 1000 babies born with some degree of hearing loss. Certain factors such as prematurity, low birth weight, family history of deafness and, or if the mother has been exposed to German Measles or has diabetes, may make the baby more “at risk” for hearing loss.

Have you ever wondered why a baby is calmed and soothed by it's mother's voice? Babies can hear from 24 weeks of pregnancy, so by the time your baby is born, your voice is the one that is familiar and comforting. Because babies are used to fairly loud levels of sound before they are born, they don't necessarily “listen” to the softer environmental sounds in the first few months after they are born. This often makes it difficult for parents to identify hearing problems.

Contrary to popular belief, clapping your hands or clicking your fingers will not tell you if your baby can hear. Babies quickly habituate or get used to sounds and therefore do not respond as parents would expect. By 6 weeks of age babies lose their startle response to loud sounds and only by 5 months of age have the head control to turn toward sound sources. The following are hearing milestones that any mom can look out for with a growing baby (according to Ellen A. Rhoades, Ed.S., Cert. AVT):

Birth to 3 months:
  • Exhibits startle reflex in response to sudden loud noises.
  • Recognizes and prefers mother's voice; quiets if crying.
  • Increases or decreases sucking in response to sound.
  • Awareness of human speech; attends to voice.
  • Shows excitement at sound of approaching footsteps, running bath water, etc.
  • Awakens or quiets to sound of mother's voice.
  • Vocally responds to mother's voice.
  • Imitates own noises as he hears them
  • Begins to localize sound by means of turning eyes toward the general sound source.
  • Begins to enjoy sound-making toys

4 to 6 months:

  • Localizes sound by turning head toward general source of sound.
  • Searches for human voice.
  • Distinguishes between friendly and angry voices, and reacts appropriately.
  • Reacts to music by cooing or stopping his cry.
  • Responds to human speech by smiling or vocalizing.
  • Association of hearing with sound production is now evident, in that he repeats selected heard sounds.
Important language milestones would be that children begin to babble and make a range of sounds between 6 and 9 months of age, have a vocabulary of approximately 50 words by 18 months and join two words together by two years of age. To facilitate language acquisition it is important for parents to talk, sing and read regularly to their child. This is how children learn the important structures of language and the joy of communication.


If you have any concerns, it is important to have your baby's hearing tested. Ideally, all babies should have their hearing screened either before discharge from the maternity unit or within 3 months of age. The screening test is quick and easy and quite painless for the baby. A tiny insert probe is placed in the ear canal and the echo response to click sound is measured. An Audiologist will explain the implications of the test, discuss the results and if indicated will recommend further diagnostic tests.

south african speech language hearing associationFor more information, or should you wish to have your baby's hearing tested, feel free to contact the South African Speech Language Hearing Association for the contact details of an Audiologist in your area. 

information provided by : Dr. Janet Smith