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Newborn hearing screening

Photo: Your baby's hearing will be tested soon after they're born.

Within the first few weeks of your baby’s life, you will be offered a newborn hearing screening to test your baby’s hearing. The newborn hearing screening helps identify babies who have a permanent deafness as early as possible.

While not compulsory, it is highly recommended your baby’s hearing is tested so that you can get the support and advice you need right from the start. The tests are quick, simple and completely painless for your baby.

What does the screening involve?

The newborn hearing screening involves two tests: the automated otoacoustic emission (AOAE) test and the automated auditory brainstem response test (AABR).

The AOAE test is the first screening test and only takes a few minutes. If you’ve given birth in hospital, this test will be carried out before you’re discharged. Otherwise, the test will take place at home or in a community clinic.

During the test, a specially trained hearing screener or health visitor will place a soft-tipped probe in your baby’s ear and play a series of clicking sounds. If your baby's inner ear (known as the cochlea) is healthy, it should produce a faint response to the clicking sounds. Sometimes it’s not always possible to get a clear response the first time, but this doesn’t always mean your baby has a permanent hearing loss. It could be because:

  • there was background noise during the test
  • your baby was unsettled
  • your baby has fluid or a temporary blockage in their ear.

If there isn’t a clear response from one or both ears, the AOAE test may be repeated or the AABR test will be carried out. The AABR test involves placing three small sensors on your baby’s head and playing gentle clicking noises through soft headphones. This test takes between 5 and 15 minutes. All babies who have been in a Special Care Baby Unit (SCBU) for 48 hours or longer, or where there is a known risk of them having a hearing loss, will have both tests done.

Depending on the results, further tests may be needed.

Why is the screening done so early?

Late identification of deafness can mean a delay in a child’s development of communication and language skills. So, the earlier a baby is identified with a hearing loss, the better.

My baby has a hearing loss, what now?

If you’ve just found out through the hearing screening that your baby is deaf, we're here for you. Visit our webpage - I’ve just found out my baby has a hearing loss - for information and support.

Further information

Find specific information about how the newborn hearing screening works where you live:

In the UK, the newborn hearing screening service is expected to meet a set of quality standards that records how many babies are tested, how many are referred to audiology for further testing and how many babies are identified as deaf following screening.

The newborn hearing screening programmes in England and Wales also publish an annual report that can be downloaded from their websites.