Solving your baby’s sleep problems with white noise

by | May 21, 2020

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White noise isn’t just some figment of new age parents’ imaginations – it really can help your baby to sleep better, writes Nicci Proome, infant stimulation specialist and paediatric sleep consultant.

It’s easy to understand the scepticism a parent-to-be might feel at the idea of ‘white noise’. After all, it’s a noise described in colour. However, if you look more closely at the description, it’s actually quite clever, using white light as an analogy. White light is a uniform mixture of all the different possible colours. White noise is a uniform mixture of random energy at every frequency: many frequencies with equal intensities.

The term white noise is also referred to as the ‘sh’ noise, and has been proven to have the most incredible impact on newborns and small babies within their first year. It makes sense when you consider that white noise is very similar to womb sounds such as your heart beating, blood flowing, the sound of your breathing, the muffled sound of mom’s voice, etc.

How noise helps your baby to sleep
White noise is a substantial tool in drowning out inconsistent background noise and contributing to the settling of your little one during sleep. The constant repetitive sounds of white noise can also help your baby stay asleep, which can be the most challenging part.

Babies love white noise. They have already spent nine months in the womb, so they are used to noise. Background white noise is actually calming for your baby as it resembles the kind of environment they initially developed in.

Often a new parent will bolt to the sound of their crying baby, only to find they are perfectly okay and lying exactly where they were put down to sleep. Dr Harvey explains in his book, The Happiest Baby On The Block, “Silence actually drives them crazy! Hours of quiet can push babies into screaming. It’s as if they’re begging, please, someone make a little noise!”

If you think about it, it actually makes perfect sense. Once a baby has been born, we take away their dark environment and replace it with a bright one, we pull them from the warmth of their amniotic swimming pool and furthermore, take away those reassuring sounds that mom is close and baby is safe. So it’s no surprise that babies hold on to the need for sound so strongly.

The upside of white noise
There are so many pros to using white noise. First, it reduces stress in babies, as when it’s played, it will take them back to the womb and it immediately start to relax them. It also helps babies to go to sleep and stay asleep, as background noise is muffled out, and it plays the same consistent frequencies throughout their sleep cycles.

It helps babies to cry less by setting in the calm reflex, and even better – it will help you to sleep better as well, for the simple reason that if baby sleeps, mom sleeps. And if mom sleeps, mom can conquer all.

Things to bear in mind
There are, however, some cons, as there are with any magic trick in the art of raising babies. The white noise needed by your baby has to be tailor-made. Not every baby likes every variety of white noise presented to them. There is an array of white noises and they need to be tested to find which works for
your baby.

Some like the tone of a hair dryer, others like the rumble of a car engine, while others like the high pitch of the radio static between channels. Finding your baby’s sound can take some experimenting. Also, don’t be fooled as to what white noise actually is. Simply playing the radio/CDs and other instruments that are not steady in pitch, tone and consistency, does not classify as white noise. And playing your Westlife CD is not going to have the same effect as playing a white noise app or switching on the
tumble dryer.

Volume is also important for consideration. Some sites recommend that the average white noise to be played should be around 70 decibels during a baby’s sleep deprived tantrum: this is as loud as a vacuum cleaner. The loudness won’t be kept at that level forever, just enough to capture baby’s attention long enough for them to begin to recognise the ‘sh’ sound and to begin to settle.

Seventy decibels might seem loud, but the volume of the human body sits at around 75-92 decibels during pregnancy, so this is also suggested by Dr Harvey Karp.

White noise should be played during baby’s wind down routine 10-15 minutes before they are put down to sleep and left to play gently in their room until they wake naturally. Forty to 60 decibels is perfect; this is the volume of rain falling, dishwater running, etc.

White noise is completely safe and a vital tool in completing your baby’s requirements for optimal sleep, but research does need to be actively put into practice by parents.

It is important to ensure that any online article suggesting a white noise product is qualified to do so: the average Joe has no place commenting on a product that could neurologically alter the natural development of your baby. Any product that has not been passed by the International Association of Child Sleep Consultants, or has not been recommended by a qualified infant sleep professional should not be used.