White noise to calm and sleep the baby: does it really work? It is safe?

One of the moments that can cause us anguish as parents is when we try to put our baby to sleep and he seems to have absolutely no desire to do so. At this point, many of us are looking for alternatives that can help us fall asleep .

One of them is the famous white noise , which many say has worked for them when it comes to helping their baby sleep (I myself have seen it sometime when my daughter was little). However, it is said that it could also be counterproductive and affect the baby.

So let’s address this issue and do our best to answer the questions about white noise to calm and put the baby to sleep: does it really work? It is safe? What does science say?

What is white noise and why does it work?

The white noise is a sound in which all frequencies are the same volume without protrude over the other. This means that when listening at a sufficient volume, the rest of the sounds in the environment are canceled and the person is left in a kind of sound isolation situation, hearing only white noise.

Some common examples of this particular sound are the noise of a hair dryer, kitchen exhaust fan, or an untuned TV channel. There are also applications with melodies to sleep the baby that include it in their catalog of sounds.

Many parents have witnessed that moment, in which a baby who is crying hears him and gradually stops crying , calms down, and in some cases even falls asleep (especially if he cries because he wants to sleep and cannot find the right way to finish falling asleep).

Everything seems to indicate that the sound calms and lulls the baby, and it is believed that it is mainly due to the similarity that white noise has with what the baby can hear when it is inside the mother’s womb . So far, we’re doing fine, right?

But is it really safe?

Initially, when it was found to be compared to the sound that the baby heard in its mother’s womb, it seemed an excellent option to help us to lull it. However, after a while other investigations explained that no, that sound isolation is simply produced and that the baby, in the absence of stimuli, relaxes .

And finally it was said that it was the same, but that the baby is actually scared , remains alert, in suspense, and that the same stress causes him to end up falling asleep without being able to bear that tension.

What does science say?

In order to answer this question, it is best to review the studies that exist on the subject and that defend one theory or another, and thus we can give parents enough and necessary information to decide whether to use it or not.

In a December 2014 study , three strategies were tested during a painful procedure: for the mother to hold the baby, for the mother to hold the baby and hear white noise, and for the baby to be in the crib and be heard White noise. They found that the babies who cried the least, and who were least upset, were those in the last group: those who were in the crib and heard white noise while the painful intervention was being carried out , followed by those who were in their arms and heard white noise. , and finally of those who were in arms without hearing the white noise.

Another study published in December 2016 used white noise as a distraction to decrease pain for babies during vaccination. With 75 premature babies as a sample, they made two groups, in which one listened to white noise one minute before vaccination, until one minute after it; in the other group, the babies were vaccinated the same way, but without white noise. They saw that, when quantifying pain, 2.9% of the children in the white noise group had severe pain, compared to 82.5% in the control group ; and that 67.6% of the white noise group had moderate pain, compared to 17.5% in the control group. They concluded that soft noise is a good strategy, and they suggested that it is an interesting research avenue to find out how it works and in which cases it can be used.

In another study published in June 2017, they decided to compare two strategies to help calm baby colic: rocking them or using white noise until they fell asleep. To do this, they took 40 1-month-old babies who had inconsolable crying episodes and saw that the group of children who were soothed by white noise ended up crying fewer hours during the day and sleeping longer at night . In their conclusions they simply said that white noise works better than rocking, and that it can be used for that purpose.

It is important to note that to date, we have not found any study that makes any mention of the possibility that white noise generates stress in the baby.

In fact, a study conducted in 1990 , when it was believed that babies calmed down because the noise was similar to what they heard in the womb, found that at the time of exposing babies to white noise the heart rate did not increase (as it would be expected if there was a stress response), but it decreased and 80% of the babies had fallen asleep after the first five minutes .

So far, scientific evidence seems to indicate that babies indulge in such noise, close their eyes, slow heart rates, and fall asleep . It has even been used in NICUs (Neonatal Intensive Care Units) because it helps mask the noise of pumps, bells and machines, making babies wake up fewer times and sleep longer.

Where did the idea that it was dangerous come from?

In some cases, mice and rats are animals used in scientific studies, because they serve as a valuable example to find out how the organism of a mammal reacts against an aggression, an infection or an experimental poisoning.

Some studies with rats and white noise have shown that there is poorer brain development when rats are subjected to this sound . The most recent is from January 2017 and in it they observed that a two-hour daily exposure to white noise affects how rats direct their attention to listen to different external stimuli .

In this case, hearing the white noise did not help the rats to develop properly, which is why many people began to say that it was dangerous. But if we talk about humans, there is no scientific evidence to say that it really affects the development of the baby .

Although not everything is positive …

Recalling a study from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) that we shared right here in 2014, there is a possible danger of white noise: hearing damage

After an analysis of 14 commercial white noise machines designed for babies, all of them were found to exceed the recommended threshold for babies , which is 50 decibels.

Three machines produced sounds so loud that listening to them for an hour could cause future hearing problems . All machines except one produced high decibel levels even at a distance of 200 cm.

The study concluded that frequent exposure to white noise and at high volume could affect hearing, speech and language development, and could cause possible hearing impairment.

However, the researchers point out that it is possible to be able to use white noise machines safely , but without an adequate instruction manual or limitations on the decibels that the machine can emit, it will be difficult to use it properly.


After conducting this analysis and searching for evidence about white noise and its use in babies, we can summarize the following:

Pros: it is effective to help calm and sleep babies and help them cry less , as well as it is a good strategy to reduce pain or crying when performing a painful process or applying a vaccine.

We also know that some adults who have trouble concentrating use white noise to be able to study or work without interruptions, and that it is recommended for use in hospital wards for heart patients , because they achieve a calmer and more restful sleep .

Cons: Frequent exposure to high volume and white noise could affect hearing, which in turn could affect speech and language development, and could potentially cause hearing impairment.

Knowing all this, that white noise is not eminently good, nor eminently bad , between having a baby crying in your arms, and consequently stressed, who does not calm down with your voice, because he only hears himself crying, and a quiet baby from listening to white noise for a few minutes, I vote for the latter without a doubt, remembering that we must keep it at a low volume.

One last thing: not everything is solved with him

Although many babies could fall asleep alone in a crib with white noise, perhaps after crying, let’s remember that the ideal is to go to the root of the problem . If a baby is just crying, it is not white noise they are asking for .

Possibly he is asking you for food or security in the form of arms and affection, or both (falling asleep to the breast as most babies have been breastfed since the beginning of time). That is what most mothers and fathers do and that is usually enough to put them to sleep .

What we mean by this is: first you have to attend to the child based on what he needs .

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