If you ask anyone, they’ll tell you that I am a huge advocate of using white noise to help babies sleep better. Everyone in my house – including the parents – still uses a white noise machine each and every night (despite my children now being 6 and 4). And we all sleep better because of it! As a Certified Happiest Baby Educator, I teach parents every day about how white noise can help babies soothe easier and quicker.
White noise is a new mom’s secret power.
As part of the 5S’s (swaddle, side/stomach position, shhh, swing, suck), white noise can help turn off the crying and turn on the calming reflex by mimicking the sounds of the womb. But, in order for the white noise to be really effective, it needs to be done correctly. Here are some common mistakes parents make when it comes to white noise– and how to avoid making them.
Assuming baby won’t benefit from white noise
Even if you got lucky with an “easy” newborn baby, using white noise is a must in my book. Babies who are great sleepers as newborns have been known to completely fall apart around the 3-4 month mark. First, there is the dreaded 4 month regression (where baby’s sleep patterns change forever). This is also the time when they become more alert and aware, begin to wean from the swaddle and when the calming reflex of the 4th trimester disappears. BUT using white noise throughout this time can help provide consistency to baby’s bedtime/nap time routine and help cue baby that it’s now time to calm down and sleep. I recommend using white noise at least through the first year (and longer, if you choose!).
Using the wrong white noise
Surprisingly, not all white noises are made equally. There are actually two distinct kinds of white noise – high pitch and low pitch – and they can be used for two very different reasons. High pitch white noise is more harsh – think sirens, alarms, beeps. They’re great for getting a baby/child’s attention but terrible for sleep (obviously!). Low-pitched white noise is repetitive, calm and rather trance-like…and perfect for lulling us to sleep. Additionally, many families will try to recreate the womb by using the heartbeat sound but that is actually not what researchers think a baby hears in the womb. Instead, it’s more like a constant deep whooshing noise. So, a continuous noise (like rain or a hairdryer) is much more effective than ocean waves or nature sounds. With that said, determining which your baby prefers (rain, hairdryer, vacuum, etc) can take some trial and error, so you may need to play around a bit in order to determine what works best for your baby.
Using the wrong volume level
In order to be effective in soothing crying, white noise needs to mimic the sound level of the baby’s wails. As we all know – that can be quite loud! A baby’s cries have actually shown to be above 100dB (for reference, a loud hair dryer is around 90dB). Thankfully for us parents, we will instinctively “shhh” a crying baby to match their level of crying and soothe. But when it comes to sleep and using white noise machines in our place, parents are often afraid to use a volume that is too high. This is actually a valid concern – especially following a 2014 study that showed that white noise machines used for 8 continuous hours at a level of 85dB or higher may cause harm. However, it’s very easy to use a white noise machine for sleeping and not cause harm. The most effective way to use white noise is to boost the volume levels based on the baby’s crying. Then, once baby is asleep, lower the volume to about 65dB for the remainder of the night.
Not using white noise often enough
Some parents are comfortable using the white noise overnight but don’t realize all of the other magical qualities it possesses. For instance, for a colicky baby, using white noise during crying periods can actually help soothe and stop the crying (especially when coupled with swaddling, swinging and sucking). This is also true for babies who can’t stand long car rides and cry the entire time. And for curious babies who can’t get through a feeding without becoming distracted. In each of these scenarios, white noise can help calm a baby. I also strongly recommend using it during all nap times too – as it can naturally help lengthen naps by keeping baby in an optimal sleep pattern for longer.
Have questions about the right way to use white noise? Or just looking for some extra help soothing your baby and getting the sleep you need? I'm happy to help! Check out my services page and schedule a free consult today.
You may also enjoy:
Jennifer Howard, LPC
I am passionate about helping tired moms thrive and healing the stigma of postpartum distress and mood disorders. I am a Licensed Professional Counselor (Virginia/DC) and Nationally Certified Professional Life Coach specializing in perinatal mental wellness, marriage/partnership strength and infant sleep and soothing.
Join the sisterhood: