Babies and hearing aids: what you need to know

As parents, we all think our babies are unique. In the case of your baby’s first experience with hearing aids, this is certainly true.

Many of the general techniques for smoothing a child’s transition to using hearing aids still apply, but there are a few extra factors you need to be aware of in babies.

After all, your baby is unable to tell you when their hearing aids are not working properly. 

Under six months

Whistling a not so happy tune

Newborns and young babies commonly experience a whistling sound in their hearing aids when lying down or leaning against something. Called acoustic feedback, it happens because your baby’s ears are small and soft and they spend a lot of time with their ears pressed against a surface, such as when they are sleeping or feeding.

Reduce feedback by using a lubricant gel as recommended by your audiologist. Young babies may also need new ear moulds every few weeks to reduce the feedback as their ears grow and change. While you want your baby to wear hearing aids as much as possible, you might want to switch them off or remove them in situations where feedback is likely, like feeding. While there’s no problem if your baby falls asleep with hearing aids in, they will probably sleep more comfortably without them.

Once they gain more control of their head and neck, there’s usually a considerable decrease in acoustic feedback.

Adjusting to hearing aids

It’s best to make wearing hearing aids part of your baby’s every day routine, so use them as much as you can when enjoying time with your baby. But as your baby adjusts, you may find you can only use them at certain times of the day.
Here are some tips to help you get started:

  • Choose times when you are free to spend time talking and singing with your baby.

  • Pick a quiet place with little or no background noise.

  • Remove anything against your baby’s ears to reduce feedback.

  • Make sure your baby can see your face and mouth when you speak.

Six to 12 months

Older babies spend more and more of the day awake. Try increasing your baby’s use of hearing aids until they are wearing them during all waking hours. Initially, you may need to spend a few minutes playing games with your baby so they are relaxed when you put the hearing aids on. As your baby becomes familiar with them, there will be less need for this distraction.

Hearing aids and speech development.

From the moment your baby is born, they start acquiring the skills that will help them develop communication. Here are some ideas for helping your baby learn about speech and other sounds as they get older, which is useful for kids with (or without) hearing loss:

  • Spend time everyday interacting and talking with your baby. Do anything that’s fun and relaxing such as singing songs, saying rhymes and reading books.

  • When you’re with your baby, talk about what you are doing, especially if it involves them. “Bath time. It’s bath time now. You like your bath, don’t you! Let’s take your suit off… that’s right. Now the nappy….”

  • The most important thing is that you talk to your baby. Whether it’s the sing-song tone that people often adopt with babies or your normal voice, it’s a matter of what you prefer.

  • Repeat any sounds your baby makes and take turns having a ‘conversation’.

  • When your baby responds to a sound, smile and clap your hands or give them a cuddle. If your baby enjoys your reaction, they are more likely to do it again.

  • Pair sounds with actions. For example, make plane sounds while you fly your baby around, or say “hop-hop-hop” as you step your fingers up your baby’s leg and tickle their tummy. And don’t forget verbal games like ‘peek-a-boo’.

  • Let your baby explore your mouth and tongue when you speak.

There are re-enforcements

One of the biggest challenges with babies is persuading them to keep the hearing aids on. After all, you’re asking them to fight their instinct to remove a foreign object from their ear and it’s not like you can just explain why they need it.

You need to minimise the chances your baby will be successful in the attempt to remove the hearing aids. As well as affecting their hearing, there’s the risk of a lost hearing aid or worse, it may pose a choking hazard.

For that reason, you might want to use headwear that limits babies’ ability to access their hearing aids or cochlear implants. There are a range of styles including headbands or hats that you can buy online. Some of them, such as Silkawear or Hearing Henry are specifically designed for securing devices, but as long as they securely cover the ear, a general-purpose baby’s bonnet such as those made by Hanna Anderson may do the trick.

If you are of a creative-bent, you can find plenty of sewing patterns online and make your own. Just search for “baby pilot cap” or “hearing aid hat”. And if that’s too daunting, check out the range of custom and handmade items in a range of fabrics and designs on Etsy.

You can get more help

Don’t hesitate to seek help and support from those around you. Your audiologist can answer your questions or concerns about hearing aids. Parents in the same boat are great for ideas and support. They are usually happy to pass on tips that worked for them, so check out online parent forums such as Aussie Deaf Kids. Your audiologist will also be happy to put you in touch with families and support near you.

Australian Hearing is the leading specialist and provider of Government funded hearing services. For more information about the services available for children with hearing loss, click here.