White noise machines can help baby sleep better, but do the risks outweigh the benefits? And are white noise machines safe for babies? Today, we’ll help you make an informed decision about whether to use a white noise machine for baby.
White noise machines can definitely help babies drift off to sleep, letting you regain valuable sleep hours as well. But what are the risks of white noise machines, and do they outweigh the benefits? And are white noise machines safe for babies? We’re here to help you make an informed decision about whether to use a baby white noise machine, with helpful guidance from reliable sources.
Benefits Of White Noise Machines For Babies
It’s true, and even proven --- white noise machines can help baby fall asleep quickly, and stay asleep. That’s likely because the steady, calming noise from the machine mimics the ambient sounds that they heard while in the womb.
One study, published in 1990, found that 80% of newborns fell asleep within five minutes of hearing white noise.
And as Dr. Harvey Karp (author of The Happiest Baby On The Block) shared on the HappiestBaby website, white noise can also help calm fussiness and enhance babies’ quality of sleep: “White noise works miracles with fussy babies and is an amazingly powerful cue to boost baby sleep. This special sound is as important as swaddling… The sound needed to turn on the calming reflex when a baby is crying is a rough, rumbly whoosh noise that’s as loud as his crying.”
And yes, the help with fussiness also means that it could help with baby’s colicky-sounding, loud cries.
Steady white noise can help block out sudden household noises (and sudden outside noises) that could disturb baby’s sleep.
And for some babies, who are used to falling asleep when surrounded by noise, a white noise machine keeps their sleep environment from being too silent for sleep, with a noise they find soothing.
If you’re having difficulties getting baby to sleep, this may convince you that white noise is worth a try.
There are different kinds of white noise, though, so which is best? Doctors generally agree that low-pitched and rumbling white noise is best for most babies.
Are White Noise Machines Safe For Babies?
Even with all of these potential benefits of white noise, that doesn’t mean a white noise machine is always safe for babies.
If a white noise machine is set at too high a volume, there’s a risk that it could cause baby to develop hearing loss.
The risk is especially high if a white noise machine is set too high and left to run all night. And the risk is also heightened if an overly loud white noise machine is placed too close to baby.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) affirms that several white noise machines “are capable of producing output sound pressure levels that may be damaging to infant hearing and auditory development,” based on a study they conducted in 2014.
Safely Using A White Noise Machine
How loud should baby white noise machines be set to keep baby safe but still aid sleep? White noise machines should be set at 50-65 decibels, and no higher than 65 decibels. This is about the same noise level as a refrigerator, dishwasher, or average conversation.
To use a white noise machine safely, keep it at least 7 feet away from baby’s crib. After all, white noise is meant to be background noise. Plus, this also keeps baby safe by making sure the cords are well out of baby’s reach.
Also, keep the volume set on low, well below the maximum available. If possible without disrupting baby’s sleep, turn the white noise machine off after baby has been fully asleep for several minutes. Ideally, limit white noise exposure to 3-4 hours per night --- and never exceed the full eight hours per night.
Making sure the white noise machine doesn’t stay on all night doesn’t just help keep baby’s hearing safe. It also reduces the odds that a baby will become dependent on the machine for sleep.
Learn more about safely using a white noise machine for babies from Starlight Baby:
Other Drawbacks Of White Noise Machines For Babies
Falling asleep and staying asleep is a skill babies need to learn. A white noise machine could get in the way of that and make it hard for baby to doze off unaided.
In other words, after getting used to a white noise machine, some babies may become dependent on it, and have to have white noise playing to fall asleep. This could pose a problem if you travel --- or have baby cared for outside of your home, like at day care or their grandparents’ house --- and you haven’t brought the white noise machine along.
Also, white noise machines could potentially put baby at risk for speech and language development problems, in addition to hearing loss
In addition, white noise machines can sometimes be costly, when there are other ways to lull baby to sleep available (including other ways of producing white noise).
And every baby is different --- some babies don’t fall asleep after hearing white noise. If that’s your baby, you might not know until after you’ve spent (and wasted) money on a white noise machine that doesn’t work.
White Noise Machine Alternatives
If you’d like to use white noise to help baby sleep, but would rather not use a white noise machine, these alternatives can also create white noise. The best part is that many alternatives are free if you already have them!
- A humidifier (which can also have other benefits for baby; learn more here)
- A hairdryer on the low setting (watch the decibel levels!)
- A room fan
- A vacuum in another room (watch the decibel levels!)
- The washing machine or dryer, if close to baby’s sleep space
- CDs of hair dryer noise or other white noise
- Holding baby and making a swooshing sound (“Shhhhh…”), to mimic what they heard in the womb
Summing Things Up For Parents
Should you use a white noise machine to put baby to sleep? It may be helpful for soothing baby, and studies support white noise machines’ effectiveness.
But if you aren’t careful, the drawbacks could outweigh the benefits. White noise may make it harder for baby to learn to fall asleep on their own. And if you aren’t careful with the volume and distance levels, a white noise machine could put your baby at risk for hearing loss.
Weigh these benefits against these risks to make the decision that’s best for you and baby --- and be sure to apply the white noise machine safety guidelines we discussed above.
And if baby consistently has trouble falling asleep on their own, especially as they get older, talk to your pediatrician.
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