Is White Noise Bad for Babies’ Hearing?
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Back in 2014, there were some alarming headlines circulating about the dangers of white noise, like: “White Noise Machines Could Hurt Babies’ Hearing,” “Sound Machines for Babies: Too Loud? Too Close?” “White Noise: Not the Right Noise.” All of this uproar was over a study in the journal Pediatrics about white noise. And many parents have been on-edge about utilizing this amazing sleep tool ever since. Here’s why there’s no need to worry about using white noise with your baby—if you use it the right way!
Does white noise damage a baby’s hearing?
Let’s rewind and take a look at that study: Researchers tested 14 white noise machines (marketed specifically for sleeping babies) by placing them a mere 12 inches from the “babies’ heads”—and cranking the sound up to max volume. (Instead of actual babies, this study used equipment to measure sound.) When researchers then measured how much sound reached the “babies,” they found that three sound machines exceed 85 decibels. (Eighty-five decibels is like a noisy restaurant or a wee bit louder than an alarm clock.)
The researchers warned that, if sound machines were played at 85 decibels (dB) for eight hours straight, the sound would exceed safety standards and might reach a level that could hurt a baby’s hearing. (The study itself did not examine hearing loss.) They advised parents to move their babies’ white noise machines as far away as possible, playing the machines at 50 decibels, and shutting off the sound after their baby falls asleep. That advice may seem logical, but I strongly believe it’s wrong...and even dangerous. Here’s why: By reducing infant crying and boosting a baby’s (and parent’s) sleep, white noise may prevent many of the terrible problems triggered by these stressors. But white noise only works if it is loud enough!
How loud should white noise be?
Let’s look at the researchers’ recommendation of playing white noise at 50 decibels. Fifty decibels is quieter than normal conversation, softer than background music, and about the same decibel count as a quiet refrigerator...and it offers absolutely no benefit for your baby’s sleep! Sound doesn’t even start improving sleep until it gets to 60 to 70 decibels. For some volume perspective, studies show that the sound inside the womb can reach over 90 decibels, so Baby is very used to that level of sound!
To help a calm baby sleep with white noise…
To help any baby get to sleep, I whole-heartedly recommend playing white noise at 60 to 70 decibels. I assure you that white noise can be safely played at that level all night…and it works! This is just enough white noise to activate a baby’s calming reflex, which is their inborn “on switch” for sleep. (That’s why white noise—aka Shushing—is an integral part of the 5 S’s for soothing babies.) A study in the journal Child & Family Behavior Therapy even found that white noise machines set at 75 decibels at bedtime—and used all night—improved sleep and reduced night-wakings in 1-year-olds with no ill effects. Plus, a 2022 report in the journal Advances in Social Science, Education and Humanities Research concluded that white noise has time and again shown to help infants and toddlers fall asleep and reduce the number of times they wake up in the night. Over time, there were no side effects worth mentioning.
To help an upset baby with white noise…
While 60 to 70 decibels is great for keeping calm babies calm, when your baby is upset, you’ll want to increase the white noise volume to match the intensity of your little one’s wailing—which can reach 100 decibels or more! A crying baby requires a more vigorous take on the 5 S’s for soothing babies in order to flip on the calming reflex, which is a baby’s “off switch” for crying and “on switch” for sleep. (Think about it like this: Playing loud white noise for minutes, not hours, is a lot less traumatic to your baby’s ears than listening to their own crying!) Then, once your baby has fallen asleep, slowly reduce the white noise intensity to 60 to 70 decibels. Again, that’s a totally safe level sound that can be played all night long. (Learn more about how to calm a very fussy baby.)
Are white noise machines safe for babies?
The answer again, is YES, white noise machines are safe for babies. And white noise machines benefit babies (and parents) by promoting sleep. The American Academy of Pediatrics agrees that white noise can help improve babies’ sleep. A study out of London found that white noise helped 80% fall asleep in just 5 minutes. And another report found that white noise significantly decreases the duration of crying and increases sleep in babies with colic. It’s just important to keep noise at a safe level for a baby and adults. Never blast white noise at maximum volume all night long right next to your baby’s head! Because, yes, if white noise machines produce sound above safe decibel levels—and your baby is listening to it all night long— it can be harmful.
What’s a safe white noise machine for Baby?
If you're in the market for a white noise machine that offers noise at a safe level, look no further than SNOObear and SNOObie. I designed both of these white noise machines with sleep and safety top of mind. For example, I made sure that SNOObie's volume automatically decreases when off its charging dock to make extra sure it’s never too loud for little ears. And, of course, my award-winning smart bassinet SNOO plays white noise throughout all naps and night sleeps. SNOO also temporarily ups the intensity of the white noise if your baby is upset…then gradually reduces the sound to a lower level when Baby calms, which takes all of the guesswork out of adjusting decibels for Baby. All levels of SNOO sound were designed with a Baby's ears in mind.
Is SNOO safe for babies’ hearing?
Yes! SNOO’s white noise perfectly safe for babies’ little ears! The sound on SNOO’s blue level is 68 to 70 decibels and the sound on the orange level—when the baby is crying hard—is ~86 decibels, which is still significantly less intense than a baby’s own cries that can reach or exceed 100 decibels. Remember, SNOO only gets louder when your baby fusses, and it quickly reduces as your baby calms. So, SNOO is only ever at max volume for approximately 4 minutes. Plus, we have different volume level options in the our app, so if you would like to set the volume to the lowest level, you can.
Final Thoughts on White Noise Safety
White noise is an amazing tool to help your baby sleep. Please don’t be afraid to use it! Simply remember: When your baby cries, boost the sound for several minutes to the level of her cries. After your little one has been asleep for 5 to 10 minutes, reduce the sound to the level of a soft shower, around 65 decibels. (Learn more about the benefits of white noise.)
More info on white noise benefits…
- Why White Noise Trumps Lullabies When it Comes to ZZZ’s
- Common White Noise Missteps to Avoid
- How White Noise Helps the Whole Family Sleep Better
- White Noise Explained: Examples of White Noise
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Disclaimer: The information on our site is NOT medical advice for any specific person or condition. It is only meant as general information. If you have any medical questions and concerns about your child or yourself, please contact your health provider.