Mom and dad, take care what you say around your unborn baby.

Even in the womb, your forthcoming addition to the family can hear not only a maternal heartbeat and digestive rumblings but also your voices and other sounds from the outside world. At birth, his or her sense of hearing ranks as the most developed of all the senses, allowing an infant to develop language and social-interaction skills (which hinge on the ability to hear).

That said, how can you tell your baby hears normally? Easy. An infant should startle at sounds almost immediately after birth and should start to coo around 3 to 6 months. At approximately 6 to 9 months, he or she should jabber and mimic sounds and, by 12 months, exhibit simple word development – think of that first “Mama!” or “Dada!”

Although most newborns arrive with perfectly good hearing, nearly three of every 100 do suffer from hearing loss. As a result, most states, Missouri among them, mandate that every newborn receives a hearing screening exam conducted in the hospital shortly after birth. Most such screening involves a sequence of tests to ensure that a baby can hear and that his or her brain can process sound properly.

If you didn’t receive (no pun intended) feedback on your new child’s auditory capabilities at the hospital, parents, ask your pediatrician about the screening and the results. Before screening became routine, most children with hearing loss went undiagnosed until the age of 2 and thus often were documented as “behind” on speech development. Nowadays, though, comprehensive and universal screening has allowed children with auditory challenges to be diagnosed shortly after birth – and to be treated early so they develop normally. [LN dingbat]

Dr. Joseph Kahn is president of Mercy Kids (mercykids.org), an expansive network of pediatric care dedicated to meeting the needs of every child, every day.

Dr. Joseph Kahn is president of Mercy Kids (mercykids.org), an expansive network of pediatric care dedicated to meeting the needs of every child, every day.

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