Silence is golden, as the saying goes, but when it comes to sleep you baby probably doesn’t agree.
Because babies are used to darkness and noise – the womb can be a noisy place after all – many parents swear by white noise as a way to settle and sooth their child when putting them to sleep.
So if you’ve been happily using white noise in your baby’s room for a while, you’re probably wondering if you should stop using it at some point.
The decision as to when to stop playing white noise in your child’s room is a personal preference.
While some parents stop playing white noise when their child reaches 12-18 months, others prefer to keep going until their child is 3 or 4 (and in some cases even older).
But what are the pros and cons of using white noise?
Is it dangerous if the volume is too loud?
And should you leave the machine on all night?
Let’s find out.
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When To Stop Using White Noise For Your Baby
There is no definite time limit regarding how long you should use white noise to help your little one sleep.
Some parents like to use white noise from newborn until their child is around 2 years old.
This avoids your baby trying to sleep in silence, which is a new and often unsettling phenomenon for a young baby and may lead them to fight their naps.
It also helps provide consistency during transitions such as moving from a bassinet to a crib, transitioning from mom and dad’s room to their own, and going from several naps per day to just the one.
There are however many parents that prefer to continue using white noise for twice or even three times as long, so until their baby is 4 or even 6+ years old.
This is particularly the case if your child is growing up in a noisy household (for example if they have a younger newborn sibling) of if there is a lot of street noise outside your baby’s bedroom.
Is White Noise Bad For Babies?
Using a white noise machine is generally safe for babies and children, provided the following safety precautions are taken.
- The sound level should not exceed 50 decibels (more on this later). This is the maximum level according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).
- The machine should be at least 7 feet away from your baby’s crib or bassinet. This is the minimum distance the AAP recommends.
- Turn the machine off once your baby has fallen to sleep.
Safe White Noise Decibel Levels For Infants
Something all parents should be very aware of is that the maximum setting on most white noise machines is well above the recommended level you should use in your child’s bedroom.
For example, many noise machines can reach 85 Decibels (dB), which is well above the recommended 50dB limit and prolonged exposure can therefore be damaging to your child’s hearing in the long term.
How loud is 50dB?
50dB is a similar level to the sound of a hair dryer, refrigerator or a quiet conversation.
Should You Leave White Noise On All Night?
Given how effective white noise can be in aiding your baby’s sleep, a lot of parents are tempted to keep it on all night.
However, the advice from many sleep experts and paediatricians is to turn it off once your baby falls asleep.
If your machine has a timer, setting it for 1 or 2 hours is ideal.
This will ensure the noise helps your baby fall asleep, while the automatic shut off means you won’t need to enter your little one’s room to manually switch off the machine and potentially disturb their sleep.
Can Babies Become Dependent On White Noise?
Whether or not babies become reliant on white noise is a topic of hot debate and something parents cannot agree on.
Some parents say their child struggled to sleep when they were weaned off their white noise machine, while others state that by slowly lowering the volume over a period of a few weeks, their child experienced no issues at all when they eventually stopped playing white noise entirely.
Can White Noise Damage Hearing In Babies?
If you follow the two key safety rules from the AAP: (1) not placing the machine closer than 7 feet from your baby’s crib, and (2) playing the machine at around 50dB, then using white noise is unlikely to damage your baby’s hearing.
However, you should keep in mind that playing white noise to babies and toddlers is a relatively new phenomenon, so there is only limited information and few studies on the adverse affects and dangers of using white noise.
Pros Of Using White Noise
- Playing white noise can sooth and calm babies and therefore help your little one fall asleep more quickly.
- White noise replaces silence – which can be unnerving to a baby – with a gentle, consistent and soothing noise.
- Blocks out other noise from within your house (talking, television, barking dogs) or external noise from your neighbours or the street.
- Your baby may associate the noise that is emitted with sleeping, which helps set a consistent sleep routine.
- Many machines have lots of different types of noises to choose from (running water, music, heartbeat), which increases the likelihood your baby will respond positively to its overall use.
- White noise machines are light and portable, and are relatively inexpensive (you can buy a good one for as cheap as $20-$30).
Cons Of Using White Noise
- Your baby may not sleep well if the white noise is absent, for example if you are traveling or unable to use your machine for a few days.
- There is no guarantee your baby will like having white / background noise.
- If your baby is sleeping in your room, or if you have a baby monitor beside your bed, you will have to listen to the noise as well, which again might not be something you like hearing.
- If the noise is too loud or too close to your baby’s head, it could lead to your child developing hearing problems.
Must Read For Parents: The Ultimate Guide To Baby & Toddler Sleep