One of the most frustrating parts of parenting a newborn is trying to find different ways to calm your crying baby. What do you do when the swaddling, rocking, or humming doesn’t work, and they won’t go to sleep? When researchers discovered the benefits of white noise for babies, we were happy to add the little sound machines to our utility belt of parental solutions.
“White noise helps to 'silence' or 'mask' other surrounding ambient sounds, which allows the baby to remain calm and self-soothe to sleep,” says Fadiyla Dopwell, M.D., developmental-pediatrician at Developmental Pediatric Services.
While a baby is in utero, it hears everything through the layers of skin and tissue of its mother’s body, thus the masked sounds. So white noise makes perfect sense. It provides a simulation of the comfort, cushion, and safety they’ve had for all the months they’ve spent growing.
White noise can also ease the anxiety and suddenness of the fourth trimester. Dr. Harvey Karp created the term, and it refers to the first three months of a baby’s life. During this time, they’ve been “evicted” from the coziness of your womb and are now encompassed by new sights, smells, sounds, and people. And sometimes, the radical change and stimulation alone frustrate your baby to tears. “Developmentally, in the first few weeks, an infant's vision is expanding, response to sound is evolving, and awareness of surroundings is increasing. But during this period, they also benefit from being swaddled or held to imitate being in the womb. They remain dependent on nutrition coming from an unknown source when needed,” Dopwell tells Romper.
In the midst of all these changes, white noise can take them back to what they’ve known to be familiar, giving you a little extra help with them sleeping longer.
There are many different types of white noise machines with frequency options, and some even offer varying types of sleep sounds like lullabies and running water. Whichever machine you choose, the American Association of Pediatricians recommends keeping it at least 7 feet away from your baby to prevent damage to their hearing.
If you want a more convenient option, Apple has a free app called White Noise Deep Sleep Sounds that you can easily use from your phone.
“Based on my experience as a pediatrician and a parent, I believe a baby's response to the white noise can vary,” says Dopwell.
Since all babies are different, using white noise may not be the golden solution in your home, but it doesn’t hurt to give it a try. And don’t worry about making bad habits — even adults sometimes need the lull of a sound machine or a fan to get them to sleep.
Fadiyla Dopwell, M.D., developmental-pediatrician at Developmental Pediatric Services