White Noise and baby sleep (not the scary film starring Micheal Keaton!)

After having the most recent baby in hospital I found he would not settle at all in the crib by the bed but was happy to feed and fall asleep when in skin to skin contact with me. Each time I tried to put him down after making sure he’d fed, been burped, had a clean nappy on and been cuddled he would just cry and seem so distressed. I kept wondering what I was doing wrong but then started to look at things from his point of view. All of a sudden after 9 months in a warm, dark, noisey environment his little world had totally changed to one of dry fabrics, light and uncomfortable quietness save for the random strange noises that start and stop without warning or continuity. No wonder he got stressed and cried!

In the uterus there is the constant noise of blood flow, mother’s breathing and muffled voice and digestive noises. These noises have been likened to louder than a vacuum cleaner but quieter than a chainsaw ie a lot of auditory input! After birth a baby can feel lonely without these constant reassuring sounds in addition to having to cope with the lack of warm, fluid, tactile movement associated with the womb.

White noise is defined as a heterogeneous mixture of sound waves extending over a wide frequency range. It is constant background noise typically drowning out other sounds. Examples in the home include the noise from an electric fan, washing machine, vacuum cleaner, static on a radio,  tumble dryer or hair dryer. You may have noticed your baby will stop crying and even fall asleep when you are using these appliances and you can use this to you and your baby’s advantage in helping promote healthy sleep by comforting your baby. This is because the repetitive nature of the sound is reassuring and drowns out other sound that can give your baby a fright so they feel safe and relaxed.

The first night at home our baby wouldn’t settle so I turned the hairdryer on in the background and he immediately stopped.  I also wrapped him up in a light blanket in a swaddle fashion and he immediately fell asleep for 3 hours until his next feed. I must admit I haven’t had to use white noise again until recently but have found that if he is crying then the noise has to be loud so he can hear it above the crying however if he is calm the noise can be quieter to get him to go to sleep and stay asleep. There seems to be a bit of debate on the internet as to whether white noise is harmful to your baby. In my opinion it is another tool that can be used judiciously to help your baby sleep and give you some rest therefore helps both you and your baby’s wellbeing. I would probably avoid noise that is too loud for too long, avoid if you have a premature baby and make sure other needs have been satisfied – is he hungry, dirty, needing a cuddle or winding?  You will sleep better if your baby sleeps better and some people find white noise very soothing to sleep with.


If you don’t want to run an electrical appliance all night you can get apps for iphones and androids of white noise and remember to avoid overheating if you are swaddling your baby and never cover your baby’s head.

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