White Noise Explained: Why It’s Important and How It Can Help
When you think back to the many prenatal doctor appointments, the cold gel on your belly and listening to baby’s heartbeat are core memories for most pregnant women. But that heartbeat wasn’t the same quiet and rhythmic buh-buh, buh-buh of an adult heartbeat. Instead, the movement of amniotic fluids made it sound like rushing water or galloping horses. This whooshing sound, it turns out, is baby’s favorite, most relaxing noise. That noise remains a comfort after baby is born—especially as they transition from the noisy womb to a quiet home filled with whispering voices—and sound machines that play white noise are a popular tool in helping to soothe babies. But the magic of white noise isn’t just a parenting fable and studies have shown it can reduce crying in infants.
Here, we’ll outline a few white noise benefits for newborns and toddlers and offer tips for creating comforting womb noises for your little one.
What Is White Noise?
White noise refers to a noise that contains all frequencies across the spectrum of audible sound in equal measure. Said plainly, white noise is an unobtrusive sound that covers background noises, like a barking dog or a running vacuum, that can reduce disruptions in sleep. For most people, white noise is commonly associated with static from television or an untuned radio. (But if you were raised in the iPod generation, you might not understand the need for tuning a radio.)
What Are the Benefits of White Noise for Infants?
Here are a few key uses of white noise and sound machine benefits.
- It can calm them down when they’re fussy.
- It can prevent wakeups. Families living in smaller spaces or noisier areas might find that white noise helps muffle sudden noises like loud traffic or dogs barking.
- It’s good for siblings who share a room. Different bedtimes might disturb your little one but white noise can help block out some of the sounds of the older sibling getting to sleep or tossing and turning in the middle of the night.
Can White Noise Benefit the Whole Family?
When baby sleeps, parents feel a little bit more like themselves. (After all, whether you’re dealing with sleep deprivation or sleep regression, sleep setbacks are disruptive!) But white noise can help mom and dad turn off their busy minds and get some much-needed shuteye. Here’s how adults can benefit from sound machines.
- A 2017 sleep study found that adults fell asleep 38 percent faster while listening to white noise.
- In another study, people living in a high-noise area of New York City fell asleep faster and spent more of their time in bed asleep while listening to white noise.
- We’ll get into the risks of white noise below, but the same principles apply to adults as they do to children. You’ll want to ensure the noise source, like your phone or a sound machine, remains at a safe distance and volume level. There are apps you can use to calculate decibel levels.
How Do You Use White Noise?
The most common way to use white noise is via a sound machine. This popular baby registry item comes in a portable, battery-powered option that’s typically the size of a soda can. Many parents opt for a slightly larger plug-in sound machine. Here’s how to incorporate white noise into baby’s bedtime routine.
- Get baby ready for bed, including swaddling newborns or using a sleepsack for older babies.
- Start the white noise machine before settling into your bedtime routine, like reading a story, singing a lullaby, or feeding baby.
- Following the safety tips outlined below, leave the white noise playing while baby is asleep.
- If baby is napping on the go, consider bringing a portable white noise machine or playing white noise audio on your phone or in the car.
Are There Risks to Using White Noise?
Of course, you want to protect your little one’s ears! Here are tips to make sure you’re using white noise correctly.
- The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends a volume of around 50 decibels at a distance of almost a foot away. 50 decibels at that distance is equivalent to the sound of a running dishwasher.
- If the sound machine is further away from your child, the noise level can be increased slightly.
- It’s possible that infant sound machines can produce sound levels that may damage infant hearing and auditory development if used incorrectly.
- Be sure your device adheres to the recommended sound levels.
- Anecdotally, in the same way that some children need blackout curtains to sleep well, some parents say their children need white noise to sleep. If you’re worried about your kiddo becoming overly attached to the noise, you can turn it off before you head to bed.
Important Things to Remember When Using White Noise
White noise can be a sleep aid for newborns, babies, and adults. Still, it should be treated as part of a holistic approach to your little one’s safe sleeping environment, including placing infants on their back in their own space free of loose blankets, pillows, toys, bumpers, and other soft items. Contact your child's pediatrician if you have questions about creating a safe sleep environment or using white noise during a bedtime routine.
If tummy troubles are waking your little one up at night, white noise won’t be enough to soothe them. When gas is the culprit, you can help relieve it with Infants’ Mylicon Gas Relief Drops in our dye-free or original formulas. They work quickly to break gas bubbles down to help your little one naturally release them. For older kids, aged 2 to 11, Children’s Mylicon Multi-Symptom Tummy Relief can help. The chewable tablets soothe multiple tummy troubles, including gas and bloating, as well as acid buildup, indigestion, and discomfort from overeating.