What to expect if your baby fails the newborn hearing screening

One of many things a new mom doesn’t want to hear is that their newborn failed the hearing test. The newborn hearing screening is generally done before you take your baby home. If they don’t pass you will be referred for further testing.

This is what happened with my second child. There are a variety of reasons your baby may fail that first test, which is why they will do additional testing on your child before determining a care plan if one is needed.

So, take a deep breath and read on to find out what might happen next after your baby fails the newborn hearing screening.

baby failed hearing test

Disclaimer: Nothing within this post or site should be used in the place of professional medical advice. This post is based on my own experiences and research and your experience may vary based on your location and situation.

Don’t Panic!

Don’t panic, there are many reasons your baby may have failed the test.

Reasons a baby may fail the hearing screening

The most common reasons a baby may fail are too much noise or movement to get an accurate reading or fluid on the ears

In order to get an accurate reading your baby, and the environment, needs to be quiet and your baby still. Background noise or noises and movements made by your newborn could cause them to fail the test.

Your baby may also have fluid of some sort in their ears from the birthing process which could also cause them to fail this initial hearing screening.

There is always, of course, the chance that your baby failed due to actual hearing loss. According to the NIDCD (National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders), 2 to 3 out of every 1,000 children in the United States are born with a detectable level of hearing loss in one or both ears.

Get the hearing tests done

You will be given information before leaving the hospital, or possibly at your first appointment, as to where and when you need to go for a follow up test.

How do they test a baby’s hearing

The concept of checking a baby’s hearing seems a bit crazy. How can you test the hearing of a baby that can’t tell you if they hear something or not?

Your baby actually doesn’t have to do anything during the test, in fact, the less they do the better! They check a baby’s hearing by testing for a brainstem response. They use equipment to see if the auditory nerve is responding to various sounds of different levels of loudness and different frequencies.

What happens at the test

For the retest you will be asked to bring your baby to the test tired and hungry. It’s one of the few times someone will actually request that you bring a cranky baby!

The audiologist will take you back to a quiet room and have you nurse or give a bottle to the baby and get them to sleep.

For us, they attached the little electrodes to my baby’s head just as we started nursing to minimize what they needed to do once she was asleep. Once she was out they put a tiny item into each of her ears.

newborn hearing test

Once you baby is fast asleep they will begin the test. It takes 5-15 minutes depending on how many frequencies they are testing. For our first test they only did a very low quiet sound. My daughter once again failed.

Depending on how insurance works where you live they may conduct a full hearing test or you may have to get insurance approval first. This is what happened for us. We had to wait for insurance to approve testing the full range of sound and come back for a second test.

For the full test, they tested the response at the full range of different sounds. They also used different tools to check how the inner ear was working and attempted to check the movement of her eardrums as well though they weren’t able to complete that test before she woke up.

The audiologist let us know the results right away and then sent the results to our pediatrician as well. Your experience may be similar or different to ours, they may wait and have your doctor review the results with you.

Can I test my baby’s hearing at home?

Is there a way to simply check your baby’s hearing at home or to check it while you wait for the official test? You can’t do any definitive testing on your own but you can take note of how your baby responds to sounds. They will likely ask you at the test if you see your baby respond to sounds.

You may want to take note of whether or not your baby startles in response to sounds of various tones. Does your baby try to turn towards your voice if you talk to them?

newborn hearing screening

Why is it important to get baby’s hearing checked?

For us the worry ended up being for nothing. After a total of 3 tests she passed the 3rd time at 7 weeks old. They ran the full gamut of tests and she passed them all! They said she likely had fluid on her ears causing her to fail the first two tests.

Hearing effects other areas of development

It’s important to go through all the testing. If you live in California like we do you’ll be hounded by the California newborn hearing screening program until you do. We got numerous letters and a phone call to encourage us to get the screening tests done.

It’s better to know early if your baby might be deaf or have hearing loss as hearing can effect other areas of development as well, such as speech. If your baby is not hearing or only hearing some tones if may effect their speech development.

Early intervention can be crucial to helping to mitigate any long-term issues.

Early actions that can be taken

If your baby is found to have hearing loss interventions can be taken as they age:

  • your child can be sent to speech therapy
  • A cochlear implant can be placed as young as 12 months of age
  • You can join a support group of other parents. Having a child with hearing loss can be especially hard on hearing parents, but over 90% of deaf kids are born to hearing parents.

Fun things to try with your baby

Playing & Bonding with baby: Things to do with newborns

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Top baby items newborn to 3 months

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