white noise for putting babies to sleep

White Noise For Putting A Baby To Sleep

Last Updated on June 6, 2022 by Peter

If you’re a bit older you certainly remember a little bit about what TV was like before cable. When you got to channel 3 (say to start your movie on your VCR before DVR or on-demand), it would get to the static channel and make that annoying sound. Now we know that the annoying sound is called white noise and it can help your baby sleep. This article is to explain a little bit about how white noise can help you and your baby fall asleep and stay asleep.

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    What is the white noise?

    White noise can be defined as a mixture of different sound waves spanning a large range of frequencies. In other words, it is a mixture of sounds that have high pitches and low pitches and everything in between. The combination of these sounds is what drowns out most of the other sounds, because when you are hearing all different frequency of sounds, your brain has trouble picking out one sound over another.

    Some examples of white noise are the TV static as I described above, the vacuum, hair dryer, a fan, or humidifier. Some people also find the sounds of waves, rain, or thunderstorms soothing, too.

    an image of a white noise

    How does it help us sleep?

    Well, it doesn’t. It actually doesn’t help you or your baby sleep per se, but drowning out other house noises can help you focus less on those other noises. White noise is also very similar to womb sounds such as your heart beating, blood flowing, mommy breathing, the muffling sound of mommy’s voice, etc. These womb-like sounds can be comforting to your baby, particularly newborns who have not yet gotten used to the outside world. There are even machines specifically designed for use with infants. Some are equipped with instrumental lullabies, and even a heartbeat noise that is used to mimic that of the mother. The constant repetitive sounds of white noise can also help you or your baby stay asleep, which can be the most challenging part. The constant whirring of white noise can give you the continuity of sound that soothes your baby to stay asleep or drowns out house noises such as people talking, doing the dishes, etc. This is especially helpful if your baby can’t get used to sleeping with noise. Here are some of the best examples:
    1. Relaxing White Noise Channel
    2. The Honest Guys Channel
    3. Best Baby Lullabies Channel
    4. Jason Stephenson Channel
    5. Lulanko Channel

    The advantages of white noise for babies

    As it is the case with everything, white noise for babies can be advantageous and disadvantageous. Let’s take a look at the advantages first.

    White noise reduces stress in babies

    What do babies get stressed about? Just about everything. They’re stressed when they’re over-tired, their world is more stimulating than they’re ready to handle, and they’re overwhelmed with lights, faces, and excitement. White noise creates a safe space for them by blocking out that stimulation.

    an image of a baby in a bed listening to white noise

    White noise helps babies sleep

    They fall asleep more easily and stay asleep longer. Babies have what are called “sleep arousals”, usually about every 20-45 minutes. Ever wonder why your baby only naps for 20 minutes at a time? Well it’s because when she hits her sleep arousal at the ~20 minute mark she is unable to fall back into deeper sleep and thus her nap is over. White noise helps babies gently navigate these arousals to get longer, more restorative naps. It also helps to block out the noise of life (older siblings, doorbells, garbage trucks, etc.) that can interfere with naps and night sleep.

    White noise helps babies cry less

    Did you know that shushing is a sound that people universally understand and make with babies? Shushing is simply white noise that you make yourself. The key to using white noise (shushing or from a radio) to help calm a crying baby is that it needs to be louder than the crying. Your baby can’t hear the shushing over his own crying. You need to shush loudly (sounds weird, we know) so that the calming noise can penetrate above the crying. Also you may need to continue to shush for a while. Loud sustained shushing can be a challenge. If you’re starting to feel dizzy and/or see stars it’s time to outsource your shushing to an electric white noise device (radio, et al).

    an image of a baby in a cot bed

    White noise reduces the risk of SIDS

    A relatively famous study (if you read a lot about baby sleep) showed that babies had a significant reduction in the risk of SIDS if they had a fan in their room. Nobody knows why the fan helps – it could be my moving the air around although many believe it has to do with the white noise the fan makes. We DO know that white noise reduces active sleep (which is the sleep state where SIDS is most likely to occur).

    White noise will help you sleep

    Parents notoriously wake up every time the baby grunts or gurgles (and babies are NOISY CREATURES). Newborn swings can also be quite noisy, especially when they’re banging away mere inches from your bed. White noise will help mask these small noises so you and your partner can sleep better.

    an image of a mother and her baby sleeping in a bed

    White noise is easy to wean off

    When your baby is older (generally after their 1st birthday) you can gradually start to decrease the volume of the white noise. If they continue to sleep well, you’re done. If they wake up more frequently then they used to turn the white noise back on.

    The disadvantages of white noise for babies

    While there aren’t many disadvantages of white noise, there might be some things that could be problematic for your baby. 

    Potential developmental problems

    Despite the potential benefits, white noise doesn’t always offer risk-free peace and quiet. In 2014, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) tested 14 white noise machines designed for infants. They found that all of them exceeded recommended noise limits, which is set at 50 decibels. In addition to increased hearing problems, the study found that using white noise increased the risk for language and speech development. Based on the findings of the AAP, pediatricians recommend that any white noise machines should be placed at least 7 feet away (200 cm) from your baby’s crib. You can also lower the volume on the machine.

    Babies might become reliant on white noise

    Babies who respond positively to white noise might sleep better at night and during naps, but only if the white noise is consistently available. This could be problematic if your baby is in a situation where they need to sleep at the sound machine is not with them. Examples include vacations, a night at grandma’s house, or even day care. Such a scenario could become extremely disruptive for everyone involved.

    Some babies simply don't like white noise

    It’s important to realize that white noise doesn’t work for all babies. Every baby is different when it comes to sleep needs, so white noise could end up being a trial and error process. If you do decide to try white noise, just make sure you do so safely.

    Let's make a summary

    To make things more organized and easier to read, let’s make the summary of advantages and disadvantages of white noise for babies. 

    The advantages of white noise for babies

    • Reduces stress in babies
    • Helps babies sleep
    • Helps babies cry less
    • Reduces the risk of SIDS
    • Helps you sleep
    • Easy to wean off

    The disadvantages of white noise for babies

    • White noise machines may exceed recommended noise limits for babies.
    • Babies can become dependent on white noise machines to be able to fall asleep.
    • Not all babies respond well to white noise.

    Conclusion

    For a parent with a newborn baby in the household, sleep can seem like only a dream. Even if you’re past the waking up every few hours for feedings phase, your baby might still have some trouble falling (or staying) asleep. To help your baby sleep better at night, it is also important to give you baby a good cot bed. At the same time, pediatricians often recommend relaxing activities, such as warm baths. But when nothing seems to work, parents might turn to alternative measures like white noise. While white noise might help your baby fall asleep, there are some potential long-term consequences. It’s important to look at both the pros and cons before using white noise as your go-to baby sleeping measure.
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