What Can My Baby Hear?

What Can My Baby Hear?

Did you know that babies are born with the capability to recognize their mothers’ voice, and it has a very soothing effect on them? Also, certain noises such as a blow dryer or a whoosh of a vacuum cleaner calm them down, since they are similar to the muffled sounds of the outer world they hear in the womb. It is totally normal for newborns to have a startle reflex when they hear a loud or an unexpected sound. You may find more details about babies’ hearing abilities below and why it is important for their healthy development.

Sensory development is essential for children’s future lives. As one of the five senses, hearing plays a major role in children’s cognitive development, language acquisition, communication skills and learning. Babies begin hearing while still in the womb. First, they distinguish the low-frequency sounds between 18 – 23 weeks of the pregnancy; such as mother’s heartbeat, blood traversing in the umbilical cord, or the air floating in mom’s lungs. Their ears are fully formed by the 35th week of pregnancy. Even though at birth their ears are well developed; their middle ears are filled with fluid that spoils their hearing a little, yet they can hear pretty well. However, until they are 6 months old, their brain will continue to develop for better hearing skills. It is highly recommended to have a hearing screening test shortly after birth for early diagnosis if there is a possible hearing problem.

Hearing development between 0 – 12 months

Babies are born with ability to distinguish their mothers’ voices and they would prefer and respond to it more than any other sound. No surprise that your little one is soothed very shortly after they hear your voice even though they were crying their eyes out. Newborns are also more attentive to high-pitched sounds and would likely respond to some familiar noises such as the parents’ voices or the songs you sing them often.  

Around two months of age, it is possible to hear some vowel sounds such as “ah” or “oh” and see your little one enjoying hearing their own voice. When they are three months old, babies’ temporal lobe in their brain, which is responsible for hearing, language and smell, becomes more active and receptive. Therefore, they may also start looking directly at your face and may try to gurgle back when you talk to them.     

At four months of age, they may start smiling back at you when they hear your voice. They show more interest in the movements of the mouth to understand what you are talking about. You may even start hearing some “m” and “b” sounds from your little one at this stage. Babies begin to realize the source of the sound between four to six months of age and they turn towards it.

By seven to twelve months, babies begin to respond to their names, imitate simple sounds and, look at pictures of objects when they hear the names. When they reach the first year mark, their understanding is well developed and may even start producing some simple words such as “mama” or “dada”.

Please note that every baby is unique and they develop at their own pace. Consult your pediatrician if you think your little one doesn’t follow the milestones in order to eliminate any possible underlying medical concern.

How can you support your baby’s understanding of the world?

  • Talking to your baby is very important. It not only improves your bonding, but also teaches them about this new unknown world they were born into. They get a lot of information by hearing others’ talk. Try identifying the sounds they hear (for example a flying airplane, a purring cat, or a driving engine) and naming the objects, animals, or people in the environment when you are together with your baby. Furthermore, talking about what you are doing will give them a chance to have an understanding of “daily routine”. Try talking through the activities; such as while changing their diapers, taking a bath, or cooking in the kitchen.
  • Baby talk, also known as babbling back, helps your baby to become more vocal as you copy the sounds they make. By four to five months of age, they become more interested in the sounds they hear especially when you speak to them and watch you very carefully. Try making eye contact and look directly into your baby’s face while talking, this will give them a chance to observe your mouth moving, and try imitating the sounds.
  • It is never too early to read. Considering the fact that babies are born familiar to your voice, it might make them feel relaxed and calm. It will also enhance their vocabulary and support their brain development by stimulating the necessary areas for memory, recognition and language skills. Using different pitches of voice while reading or telling a story to your little one will make the activity more interesting and possibly long lasting.
  • Singing is another way to support your baby’s understanding of the world. By changing your tune, the beat, volume and doing some action songs will get their attention more. Also try dancing to the songs together, and enjoy your time together with your little one.

Hearing test

Hearing screening, also called as the Automated Optoacoustic Emission Test (AOAE), usually takes place in the hospital before you get discharged. It can also take place later on during the next doctor visits. It is an easy and painless procedure that takes only a few minutes. If your doctor is not satisfied with the results, they might recommend you to take another test or follow it up. Further tests not only give how much of the hearing is impaired, also give information about the type of it.

It is important to be tested for any possible hearing loss shortly after birth since this sense has a vital role in children’s future cognitive, social, language development and communication skills. CDC stated in a research conducted in 2019, that 98% of newborns were tested for hearing loss and the prevalence of hearing loss was 1.7 per 1000 babies. So, try to have your baby’s ears tested as early as possible.


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