Is Your Sound Machine Harming Your Child?

babysleeping1
Image via FreeDigitalPhotos/ David Castillo Dominici

A new study highlighted in this article suggests that noise machines could be harmful—”capable of producing sound pressure levels that could harm babies’ auditory development.” 

Researchers tested 14 infant sleep machines at maximum volume, analyzing the noise level production from each of those at several distances. 

The maximum volume of each of the machines exceeded 50 decibels—the recommended noise limit for infants in nurseries. Three of the sleep machines had outputs greater than 85 decibels, which exceeds the adult recommendation. 

The study is recommending that manufacturers be required to limit the maximum sound output and to print warnings about noise-induced hearing loss on packages. It was also recommended that machines are to be given a timer that would shut off the device after a given period of time. 

It’s important to note that the goal of the study was to measure the maximum output level’s effect. Experts do disagree on what recommendations should be given on these machines.

Sound machines are a staple on a registry. You’re five-months pregnant and are walking through the store with your registry gun in hand. You walk by a cute little stuffed lamb. You stop and touch it. Boy, it’s soft. You begin reading the label and find out that the lamb actually produces womb-like sounds. You scan the bar code, adding it to your registry. 

Four months later, you open the box and pull the lamb out. You place the lamb in the crib and turn it on. You feel comfort in knowing your baby will have a few peaceful hours of sleep.

The closer the better? Wrong. Even before this study came out, I knew you weren’t to place anything in the crib with your baby for the risk of SIDS. Now it could have yet another risk. The quieter and further away from your child your sound machine is, the more safe it is to them.

Common sense, right? I would have to admit I was one of those parents who had to think that a noise that close to a newborn’s ear was not smart. But a lot of parents decide to place that lamb right into the crib—it’s a stuffed animal, after all. 

Eventually I went out and bought a real sound machine—one of the clunky white ones that played several different white noises. I put it on the shelf on the other side of my son’s room. The volume was loud enough that he couldn’t hear me walking around, but low enough that I couldn’t hear it from the room next door. 

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Why use a sound machine? For us, it was a significant tool in helping my son sleep through the night. My son could hear every little thing and would wake up. Having a sound machine drowned out conversations, footsteps, and common noises. Often times, I would notice the interruption in his sleep if we were sleeping somewhere and didn’t have his sound machine.

We couldn’t find the difference between a sound machine and a loud fan, a humidifier, or an air purifier. No harm, no foul.  

Dr. Harvey Karp, a pediatrician, quoted in this article, has concerns about some of the study’s conclusions. 

It’s important to note that the goal of the study was to measure the maximum output level’s effect. Experts do disagree on what recommendations should be given on these machines.

Dr. Karp suggests that “the intensity of sound is an important factor to consider […] parents should look to make sure these machines aren’t louder than a ‘soft shower.'” He also suggests keeping them at least a foot away from the child’s head. Obviously, the further away, the better.

Whether or not to allow the machine to be on all night is also unsupported by the data in the study. In fact, Dr. Karp recommends keeping the noise going the entire time the child is sleeping, to prevent more disturbances in the middle of the night. 

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A good night’s sleep for a baby is critical for the health of both parent and child.

We still find ourselves using our son’s sound machine. It makes such a significant impact on the length and quality of his sleep. It would seem that if you have common sense (not jacking up the volume to drown your child’s cries), you’ll be OK. 

I’ll continue to use my son’s sound machine for as long as it’s deemed helpful. What about you?

What do you think?

Is Your Sound Machine Harming Your Child?

Peyton Pryce has worked in the learning and development industry for the past 11 years - the least interesting thing about her. She is raising a smart, sarcastic and fun little boy. On top of having a full-time job and being a mother, Peyton works hard to support her husband and country as a military wife. Never one lacking an opinion, her friends seek out her advice about parenting, budgeting, cooking, or almost anything. Peyton comes from a large family, with over 11 siblings or in-laws an ... More

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6 comments

  1. Elizabeth says:

    An instrumental or lullaby cd works just as well as a sound machine

  2. Kayla says:

    we just got a cd player for our 13mo after i managed to break myself from having to sleep with the tv on. before that, every night we would watch tv in the room while she went to bed until around 11 months when she would watch it instead of sleeping. now we just put a disney or instrumental CD in at night. it helps her not be woken up by noises like she was doing after we turned the tv off. one nice thing though was that while we slept with the tv on all night, she wouldnt get woken up unless we made a really loud noise or touched her.

  3. jesster131 says:

    We just use a quiet lullaby CD in his room. He loves music & is content with the music playing. It is on the other side of the room from him but still allows for outside sounds to be filtered.

  4. LIZ says:

    really important article

  5. We swear by our sound machines! In fact, we had to go out and get a second for our bedroom because we were so used to having hers in our room when she was little. When we moved her (with her sound machine) into her room, we were left feeling like we were missing something, lol. So now we have our own, and I think I sleep better now too!

  6. mommy nhoj says:

    We didn’t use any of these. She gets used to the noise eventually.

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