White Noise Machines Could Be Harmful to InfantsKatlyn Joy | 1, April 2014
It's been proven that white noise does help babies sleep better at night. However, new research now is suggesting that that is the worst thing a parent can do. According to a new study published in Pediatrics, white noise machines could cause babies harm. Researchers looked at 14 white sound machines meant to soothe people to sleep. Evaluating the machines for sound levels, they found that 3 of the machines when set at the highest level would violate allowable noise limits for workers, which is 85 decibels.
The study done by the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto discovered that every white noise machine they looked at exceeded the noise limit set for hospital nurseries, at 50 decibels.
To mimic real-life situations, the researchers tested the machines at a distance of 30 centimeters to simulate being near baby's head, at 100 centimeters to simulate being placed next to a crib, and at 200 centimeters to simulate being across the room from baby. When at 30 centimeters, the white noise machines produced sounds in the range of 68.8 to 92.9 decibels, obviously above the 50 decibel limit for hospital nurseries. All the machines were still above the 50 decibel mark at the 100 centimeter setting. At the 200 centimeter distance, 13 of the 14 machines still violated that 50 decibel limit.
Dr. Blake Papsin who was the lead researcher for the study, and serves as chief otalaryngologist at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, said, "Used too loud or too close or too long, these machines can exceed safety standards and potentially damage the hearing of the infant."
Papsin also explained how the standards may be not protective enough for the smallest ears. "And those sound limits may be too liberal for infants, whose ears differ from adults. The infant ear has a little straighter tube. It's a little wider open, and it amplifies the higher frequencies."
The researchers note that the study looked at the potential for harm from the machines, but no study yet has looked to see if actual damage has occurred to infant hearing in conjunction with use of such white noise machines.
The machines offer a menu of sounds ranging from a constant hum, raindrops, crickets, waves or heartbeats. However, it's not certain how listening to a consistent steady sound stream may affect the brain and if it may not help a child organize sleep as well as just adjusting to listening to intermittent normal sounds such as a dog barking in the neighborhood, the vacuum cleaner and children's laughter.
Papsin says of the white noise machines, "None of our sleep specialists recommend them."
What do researchers recommend? If using one of the machines, use it judiciously. Set a timer to avoid overexposure to the noise and overreliance on the machine, if available. Keep them at a distance as far from baby as possible and keep the setting on the lowest volume possible.
The researchers also have advice for manufacturers of the machines. They recommend having lower automatic volume settings, timers, and inserts to educate parents on the dangers of noise-related hearing loss.
According to the American Academy of Otolaryngology, noise induced hearing loss in children is a significant risk, but very little has been reported on the risk. Approximately 17 in 1000 children under 18 years of age have lost some or all their hearing in the US. Any noise over 85 decibels can cause permanent damage to hearing.
Instead of relying on sound machines to simulate nature or other sounds, you can help a baby learn to relax for sleep by having a regular schedule and a sleepytime regimen of activities that help baby slowly wind down. You can give a warm bath, feed baby, rock and read a story, sing a lullaby and soften the lights with each activity. Put baby down when he is looking tired, but don't wait until baby is completely dozing off. If you wait too long, you have only taught baby to expect you to get them over the goal line of ZZZZs. If you just help baby relax and prepare for sleep, baby will learn to settle down from that point on her own. Being too dependent on any one thing; rocking, nursing, binkie or blankey, makes for a tough separation at some point.
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