How Baby Hears

Babies are acutely tuned into their mother’s voice at birth.  This is evidenced in new  medical practices that dictate testing newborns’ hearing in the delivery room and again prior to release from the hospital.  It is through the sense of hearing that a baby learns communication, how to read and speak.  
While a newborn can hear, she cannot locate the source of sound.  It is important for caregivers to help baby learn by practicing sound location and sound associations with rattles and other noise makers in baby’s daily routine.  Helping baby make connections to sources of sound, loud versus soft sounds, rhythm of music and the sound of the human voice through the cadence of dialog with baby engages baby’s sense of hearing and develops important connections in the brain which are used throughout lifelong learning.

Baby talk or simple repetitive speech with exaggerated expression and pauses between sounds, helps infants distinguish the sounds important to the language spoken around them and begin to understand the beginning and ending sounds of words. This continued language development is dependent upon critical early experience in responsive language.  Talk, talk, talk to baby and respond to her when she joins in the conversation.  She is listening and learning with every word you utter and every response you make.  Live Science has published an interesting article about baby language.  It can be found here Newborn Babies Cry in Native Tongue.

At birth, a newborn has a difficult time hearing soft sounds and distinguishing high-pitched sounds. Baby’s hearing will develop fairly rapidly throughout the first year of life, reminding us of the importance of providing baby a range of pleasant and interesting auditory experiences.  Caregivers should be aware that loud and sudden noises can startle a very young baby and so should remember to protect their delicate, developing sense of hearing from continuous, loud music and other repetitive loud environments.  Reading to baby from birth may seem senseless, however, baby learns about language by hearing spoken words repeated over and over again.  Pre-speaking babies are taking in all of the sounds, intonation and cadence of their native language long before they are able to create the words on their own.

Talking with your newborn is the single, most important thing a parent can do in order to foster the critical “neuro-paths” in the brain that build a foundation for learning later in life.   Parents and caregivers should stay aware of baby’s hearing abilities and make sure that hearing is tested early in life.  You can test your baby’s hearing casually at home by shaking a rattle or chime on one side of baby’s head.  Give baby some time to respond to the sound and notice if baby turns his head toward the source of the sound.  Remember if you suspect anything abnormal regarding your baby’s hearing, check with your pediatrician.