It has been reported that two to three of every 1,000 babies in the U.S. are born with hearing loss, and nearly 15 percent of school-aged children have some degree of hearing loss. While many of these cases are genetic, or linked to certain illnesses or syndromes, some instances could be prevented with the appropriate care during pregnancy, at birth, and throughout your child’s early years.
Protecting your baby in the womb
The road to hearing health for your child begins before they’re even born. Smoking and drinking alcohol during pregnancy are already known to be dangerous, and they have been linked to smaller hearing organs in children and fewer hearing nerve cells. It is also a good general rule to avoid excessive noise exposure. Although the amniotic fluid can deflect noises, if exceptionally loud (like a rock concert or heavy machinery), they can potentially damage the baby’s hearing, as well as your own.
Screening for hearing loss at birth
Today, more than 95 percent of babies in the US are screened for hearing loss shortly after birth. Such screenings test how their inner ears and brains respond to sound. If hearing loss is suspected through this early detection, you can ensure they receive the proper care and treatment from the beginning. This way, you can minimize the effects of hearing loss on children, such as delayed speech and language development.
As your baby grows
Research suggests that breastfeeding your baby may help decrease the risk of hearing loss. The nutrients and germ-fighting components of breastmilk and the upright position when feeding can help protect against ear infections. But keep in mind that ear infections can be a common illness for all infants, whether fed with breastmilk or formula.
Signs of ear infections in babies include pulling at their ears, difficulty sleeping, fever, fussiness, and crying. If your child shows these symptoms, bring them to the doctor to examine their ears, monitor the situation, and provide any necessary treatment.
As your baby grows up, you can help take care of their hearing health by demonstrating good habits, like not cleaning their ears with cotton swabs and using ear protection when around loud noises. If there’s a family history of childhood hearing loss or your child has a disorder or syndrome known to affect hearing, regular hearing tests will let you know if their hearing ability changes. Otherwise, if you notice a change in your child’s behavior, like slipping grades, acting out more, or being less responsive to sounds than before, consider having their hearing tested.
Raising a child with hearing loss
If your child is found to have hearing loss, seeking treatment as soon as possible can help ensure they remain on track with developmental goals. While they may encounter some challenges due to their hearing loss, with an appropriate treatment plan and hearing technology, combined with your love and support, they can have a full, happy life.