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Can infant sound machines harm your baby’s hearing?

March 17, 2014

You may have heard some talk lately about sound machines used for white noise and the possibility that it could damage a baby’s hearing. If your house is like mine, white noise is an absolute must- a small house with multiple children and bedrooms close together means that white noise helps everyone sleep better. But, is that okay?

A new study published in Pediatrics this month highlights some important issues surrounding infant sound machines, but there’s no cause for panic.

The study

Researchers tested 14 different infant sound machines and recorded the noise levels at 30cm, 100cm and 200cm distances. The noise levels at varying distances were then compared to the 50 dB noise level that is recommended for babies in a hospital nursery or neonatal intensive care unit.

The conclusions

The study found that several of the sound machines, when played at their highest volume and when used at close range exceeded the recommended 50 dB noise level. Researchers went on to speculate that perhaps this could affect children’s hearing as well as speech and auditory development.

I don’t often wholeheartedly disagree with the conclusions of a prominent study, but in this case, the study (the science itself) does not come close to proving the conclusions asserted by the authors.

What the study shows

  • Some infant sound machines may be too loud
  • Using sound machines too close to your child’s crib may be too loud
  • This is an area in which more research is needed

What the study does not show

  • This study does not show that there is a problem with white noise or sound machines across the board.
  • This study does not (and cannot) show that white noise has a detrimental effect on a child’s development, auditory or otherwise.
  • This study does not show that the potential (theoretical) risk of white noise outweighs the benefits of helping a child get to and stay asleep.

What should you do?

The important take-home point of this study is for you to consider the noise level of your sound machine or white noise. A 50dB noise is relative to the sound of someone taking a shower. Listen to the sound machine in your baby’s room and see if it sounds louder than a shower. If so, it’s too loud, so turn it down. Also, don’t place a sound machine inside or close to your baby’s crib. If you’re able to set a timer so that the sound goes off after a time (and it doesn’t affect your baby’s sleep), do it. A shorter duration of the sound could be beneficial.

And guess what? That’s really it. There isn’t cause for alarm. White noise has been shown to be a helpful tool in soothing babies, helping them sleep and masking household noises that would otherwise awaken them. This study doesn’t change that.