'Soothing' White Noise Machines Could Do Babies More Harm Than Good

Parents will do anything to get their babies to sleep soundly. We'll drive around town for two hours if we know they only sleep well in car seats. We'll break our rule about giving them a bottle in the crib. Some of us will even throw the crib in the trash and let them sleep with us if it means they'll stay down for longer than five hours. Well, if you're like me and have ever used a sleep machine to help lull your baby to bed, start weeping now: a new study suggests white noise machines can harm babies' hearing.


Researchers took 14 popular sleep machines that play white noise and other sounds known to promote sleep and positioned them within various distances of a crib to determine what effect the noise could have on a baby's hearing. At one foot away, three of the machines proved so ear-splitting that, if played at top volume throughout the night, they would exceed "allowable noise limits" for adults at work. When positioned between one and three feet from a sleeping baby, all of the other machines exceeded the recommended noise limit in hospital nurseries. Even at 6.5 feet, 13 of the machines still exceeded the noise level.

One thing is important to note here: actual hearing studies of babies who are exposed to these sound machines were not performed. Researchers are letting us know what could happen if these machines are used within close proximity to our babies and for too long a time. Since babies' ears are different than ours -- they're open wider and any ordinary noise we hear is amplified for them -- it certainly makes sense that this study is delivering important information we should trust and take seriously.

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My husband and I shared our bedroom with our daughter when she was a baby. We used a regular, old white noise machine -- not one meant for babies -- because we were always paranoid that we'd wake her up as we came and went. This study has convinced me that I've damaged my daughter's hearing for life, given the fact that it wasn't even a special machine AND we kept it on our nightstand, fairly close to her crib, AND we kept the bloody thing on all night long.

When I give birth to my son later this month, I will definitely think twice about using a sound machine. Maybe it's better if we never get our children used to these soothing sounds and teach them to sleep without aids. But I understand the temptation to use them because they really can have a calming effect.

If you choose to continue using a white noise machine, make sure it is positioned more than 6.5 feet away from where your child sleeps. Either turn it off after 45 minutes or, if it has a timer, set it to turn off by itself.

Though it seems like additional studies are required to determine whether sound machines are truly detrimental, we don't want to take a chance when it comes to our baby's hearing.

Have you ever used a white noise or sound machine to help your baby sleep? Will you continue to use one now?


Image via Elizabeth/Table4Five/Flickr

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