Why Do Babies Like White Noise?
Some babies sleep better than others. Some hardly like to sleep at all. As a parent, you’re tired, and you wish this new baby would go to sleep so you can get some rest, too. So no wonder when baby finally settles down for a nap, everyone in the house walks around on tippy toes in bare feet and whispers. If you think of the great change this tiny baby experienced in his transition from the womb full of warmth and predictable sounds, white noise, to the big world full of light and sudden racket, it’s not hard to commiserate with him.
This baby has just spent the first months of existence in a dark, warm place, floating in a gentle tide with no need to do anything or go anywhere. He heard the muffled sounds of a world that seemed far away that just played in the background. The close sounds that enveloped him were the steady thump, thump, thump of mother’s heartbeat and the gentle whoosh of air, in and out as though billowing through.
Suddenly, something pushed him from that nurturing environment into a world of hard light, cold, clatter, and movement. He had no idea what brought on the abrupt change, but he had been thrust into it against his will. The environment that had provided contentment and security had been snatched away and he protested by crying.
As children and adults, we never let go of our affinity for white noise. We love the sound of a mountain stream, a waterfall, the waves of the ocean; these are all popular choices for white noise. We find it peaceful to sleep with a gentle rain pitter-pattering on the window pane because on some subconscious level, it reminds us of that time in our existence when that white noise was an integral part of our contented, secure existence.
So if your baby has difficulties getting to sleep or staying asleep, and you’ve already tried everything else, like warm baths, you may consider trying a little white noise. Try to bring him back, at least for a short time, to when he lived in his little bit of heaven.
You can choose from several little, inexpensive white noise machines. Some have been specially designed for use with a baby. Others have a sleek, sophisticated design, and they usually run under $50. They all come loaded with a few white noise selections to choose from or have an app you can download for other alternatives.
Some are also Bluetooth speakers so you can grab other options from the Internet and play them through your phone. You can even find a heartbeat, a very familiar sound for baby, to lull him to sleep.
If you don’t want to buy such a machine and you have a cell phone, ipad, or other similar device, you can download a variety of white noise tracks from the Internet and play them through your compatible device. Some tracks will play up to 10 hours.
Pros and Cons
However, as with anything else, the use of white noise to help babies sleep has its pros and cons. For most, but not all babies, white noise works very well. In 1990 the Archives of Disease in Childhood published a study of 40 newborns. After 5 minutes of white noise, 80 percent of those babies had fallen asleep. But don’t think of it as a cure-all. It can come with some problems.
Supporters claim that babies will fall asleep faster with white noise because after all, it’s familiar and comforting. It also blocks regular household noises as well as the sudden shatter of a glass on the floor or the slam of a door. Those sounds would disturb anyone’s sleep.
If a heartbeat is your sound selection, that could be very comforting and help with sleep because the baby has a memory of that sound in the not-too-distant past.
On the downside, babies might become dependent on the white noise to fall asleep if used all the time. You may not have your white noise machine available at grandma’s house or while travelling, so it might be wise to use it only intermittently. Baby must be able to get to sleep on his own.
Another negative might be that your baby may not respond to it. It’s certainly not a cure-all for all babies.
Some machines may also be too loud, so you should make sure you can turn the volume down to an appropriate level. You should also place the machine several feet away from your sleeping baby.
In 2014, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) tested 14 different white noise machines. They concluded that in all cases, the noise level rose above the recommended noise limit of 50 decibels.
Such noise could cause hearing problems and in turn, speech development issues. So if you opt to use white noise, make sure you place the machine at least 7 feet from your sleeping baby and can lower the volume substantially.
Most babies, about 80 percent, respond well to white noise, but there’s no guarantee of how well it will work for your baby or if it will work at all. If you choose to use white noise, be well aware of the negatives as well as the positives. You don’t want to pay too high a price for a few hours of sleep in the way of hearing loss or speech difficulties.