Can you hear me now?
The way an infant’s hearing develops directly affects their speech, language and voice development. Tennille Aron spoke to paediatric neurologist Dr Amith Keshave to find out what hearing milestones you can expect in your child’s first year of life.
Babies begin to hear sounds from as early 18 or 19 weeks, while they are still in their mommies’ tummies. As a baby grows, this hearing becomes more fine-tuned to hearing different types and pitches of sounds, and this has a direct effect on speech and language development.
Here are some of the hearing milestones you can expect your child to reach from birth to their first birthday. It is important to remember that as children don’t all grow at the same rate, not all children will reach these milestones at the same time.
Babies begin to hear sounds from as young as 18 weeks when their ears develop in utero. At first they hear sounds within the womb, such as the mother’s heartbeat, and later on, they are able to hear certain sounds coming from outside of the womb. Therefore, expectant parents are always encouraged to talk to their developing babies while still in the womb, so that they can become familiar with their voices before they are even born.
0 – 3 months
Although babies born at full term have fully developed ears, they don’t yet have the ability to hear and understand all types of noises, for two reasons.
First, a newborn baby might still have fluid trapped in their middle ear, which can make hearing a bit more difficult for the first couple of days. Second, when a baby is born, the parts of the brain that are responsible for hearing and speech are not fully developed, and therefore an infant three months or younger doesn’t possess the ability to interpret and understand certain sounds. This ability will develop as the infant grows older.
From birth to three months of age, these are the speech and hearing milestones that you can expect your baby to reach.
Your baby will:
- react to loud sounds with startle reflex.
- be soothed and quietened by soft and familiar sounds or voices.
- recognise and respond to familiar voices such as their parents’ voices.
- be awakened by loud voices and sounds.
4 – 6 months
At 4 months, the areas of the brain responsible for hearing and interpreting sounds become more mature, and these are the milestones you can expect.
Your baby will:
- Turn in the direction of a new sound.
- Start to respond to changes in the tone of your voice.
- Take notice of toys that make a sound and start paying attention to music.
- Begin to make sounds, such as, “ooh”, “aah”, and “ba-ba”.
- Begin babbling.
7 – 11 months
At this age, your baby’s hearing and language skills develop quite rapidly. Here are the milestones to expect.
Your baby will:
- Respond to his or her own name, a telephone ringing, or someone’s voice, even when the sound is soft.
- Start to enjoy playing games like peekaboo or pat-a-cake.
- Understand common words that are used quite often such as, food, cup or bye-bye.
- Make babbling sounds, even when alone.
- Start to respond to requests, like “stay there” or “come here”.
- Look at things or pictures when someone talks about them.
By 12 months your baby should be able to respond to their favourite song and may even start using simple words like, “mama” or “dada”. At this point, your baby’s hearing has developed quite significantly and this has a great impact on their speech development too.
How can you help your baby’s hearing?
Helping your child develop their hearing and language skills can start from as early as before birth. Playing music and reading to your child are great ways to start introducing these skills. Your baby will respond to all kinds of music, so don’t just stick to children’s music, but you can even play some of your favourite songs.
Talking to your child from the time they are still in utero and continuing this throughout their first year of life, in particular, is also a great way to get them familiarised with your voice and help them hear new sounds. Babies will mimic what they hear around them, so never stop talking to them. Singing nursery rhymes to your infant is also a great way to help them develop their speech and hearing.
When should you be worried about your baby’s hearing?
Just after birth, all babies undergo a screening test to check their hearing. To test the cochlear function (testing how the baby receives and processes sounds) of your baby’s ear, a probe that transmits sound is placed in the outer ear of the baby. Sounds are played and the response to these sounds is measured. If your baby has any auditory problem at birth, then this test should pick it up.
Even though hearing problems are quite rare in babies, long delays in achieving hearing, speech or language milestones might be cause for concern. However, always bear in mind that not all babies’ speech and language develops at the same rate.
If you are concerned about your baby’s hearing at any point after this test, you should consult your healthcare professional as soon as possible.