For anyone with a newborn baby in their household, a good night’s sleep might currently seem like a distant memory! Even if you are well past the waking up every two hours for a feed stage, chances are that your baby still has trouble falling asleep or regularly wakes up throughout the night. There are of course lots of fiercely debated techniques bandied around about how to ensure you have a contented baby who soundly sleeps without so much as a peep!
We are all individuals and like to do things our way, especially when it comes to the most crucial issue of all, parenting! Not everyone can bear the idea of leaving a baby screaming in their crib and will try almost anything to soothe a troubled infant. From warm baths to soothing lullabies, gently rocking back and forth, to white noise machines. These are all tried and tested techniques that are frequently adopted, and today we’re focusing in on white noise and debating whether or not white noise is safe for babies.
The pros and cons of white noise for babies
It’s well proven that white noise can actually help a baby fall asleep in the first instance but what about any long-term consequences? Is white noise a safe and effective sleeping measure and what evidence is currently around to support using a white noise machine on a regular basis?
How does white noise actually work in the first place?
White noise is sound, not silence; but it’s a specific type of sound that actively masks and blocks out other more dominant and distracting sounds. Imagine the gentle humming of the refrigerator which masks out the traffic on the road outside if you live in a busy city.
Or a soft environmental sound like the chirping of a rainforest or the sound of waves gently lapping against a beach. These are sounds that are relaxing, rhythmic and soothing and that can help put you (and your baby) into a calm and composed, trance-like state which will encourage sleep or meditation and even enhanced concentration within a noisy work environment.
When it comes specifically to soothing infants and babies, you can also find white noise machines that are equipped with an instrumental lullaby or even the sound of a heartbeat, designed to mimic the sound of the mother which a newborn baby has been used to hearing in the womb for the last 9 months. Imagine the shock of coming out into the real world. All that noise! There’s little wonder that many babies find it distracting, confusing even, and difficult to sleep.
What’s the science behind the effectiveness of white noise for babies?
Well, a study published back in 1990 by the Archives of Disease in Children studied 40 newborns and concluded that 80% of them actively fell asleep within 5 minutes of being exposed to white noise.
So there is conclusive evidence that white noise machines are certainly effective in helping to lull a baby to sleep initially. If you find that your baby has a tendency to need a nap during noisy times of the day, then a white noise machine could be useful to help you put them down for a mid-afternoon sleep.
Conversely, if your baby is used to sleeping during the day when there is a lot of environmental sound in the background, just the mere act of going to sleep at night when it’s deadly silent might be disconcerting, and this might be why they’re having difficulty sleeping. White noise then may aid sleep in this respect too.
White noise machines can mask disruptive household noises and also sibling noises!
If you have a couple of young kids still in your household, you might find that they need to sleep at different times of the day. One might nap for longer than the other, so a white noise machine might also be beneficial in helping your baby sleep longer while your toddler decides to get up and be active. A bored and firmly awake toddler typically signals that it’s game over for any of you to get any rest!
So those are the pros, of which there are plenty. What about the cons? Are there any potential developmental problems linked to white noise machines for babies?
As with all things in life, there is always a counter argument and a flipside, so we do need to explore that too. In a further report published in 2014, it specifically looked at the level of decibels output by a range of different branded white noise machines that had been designed for use with infants. It concluded that all of them exceeded the recommended safe noise limit which is set at 50 decibels.
That, of course, could lead to potential hearing problems in later life. However, the solution is simply to place the machine at a safe enough distance away from your baby to ensure that the benefit is still received but the noise level reduced. That recommended level is at least 7 feet away from your sleeping baby.
There is also the chance that your baby might become dependent upon white noise to sleep which might cause you problems when you are traveling away from home and have forgotten to pack the white noise machine with you for that long overdue visit to your Mother-in-Law’s.
Nightmare! It’s also, of course, worth pointing out that not all babies will be receptive to white noise. Some of them might just not like it so it could be a process of trial and error to see what works best for soothing your tired baby.
Sleep is important, that much is for sure!
The one thing that is undeniable of course, for babies and for parents, is the absolute importance of sleep. Without the correct amount of sleep we all become more disagreeable and suffer from behavioral fluctuations and a newborn is no different to an adult in that respect.
While white noise is by no means a cure-all method for all babies, it can be a good temporary solution to delivering a more restful night’s sleep. Just make sure you have the unit positioned safely so that the decibel level isn’t too obtrusive.