Parenting can be a tricky minefield to navigate, especially in the age we live in, where information, recommendations and advice can be accessed from anywhere, 24 hours a day. Research is ongoing and it can seem like every week a new study cautions that something we're doing (or did in the past) may be dangerous for our kids.
Now, white noise machines are on center stage, as a recent study revealed that these devices output serious decibels — noise levels that may be too much for little ears. Is it enough for you to chuck your white noise machine in the garbage, or is your baby's sleep (and your sanity) more important?
A study was published in the journal Pediatrics that states that some of the sounds produced by these white noise machines exceed safe levels for adults. They tested the maximum output — in other words, the highest volume they can go — of 14 different machines from three distances: from an infant's head to her crib rail; from her head to just outside her crib; and from across the room. They found that three of the machines exceeded 85 decibels, which is the top recommendation for adult exposure for an 8-hour period, and overall the machines, at max volume, are way too loud for infant ears.
They recommend that manufacturers limit the overall output of their devices to a lower decibel, and that parents not leave them on, exposing their babies to the noise for hours at a time. Low volume, short duration and away from the crib is the way to go, they say.
However, many moms rely on these noise machines for their babies' sleep, and they are often left on all night long. They view the subsequent media coverage on this study to be nothing more than a scare tactic, only addressing the maximum volumes of these devices — something most parents don't use. "I spent 45 minutes last night shopping online for a new one for the baby's room," shares Jessica, mom of two. "My 4-year-old wakes up at 5:30, and the baby likes to sleep until 7. There is no other option. I do think they can be loud and we don't blare it. But it sits across the room from the baby, near the door, to drown out noise."
"Ridiculous," agrees Karen, mother of three. "Of course loud noises aren't good for babies. As long as you don't put it right by the baby's head and turn it up full blast, what's the big deal? I know that they have to account for people who don't use common sense, and in that respect, this info is good news. But I feel like everything parents do is under scrutiny, and it's unnerving."
Sleep when you have a baby is a precious, precious commodity. White noise machines have come to the rescue for tons of families, undoubtedly. Definitely do not discount what loud noises can do to an infant's hearing — use your white noise machine (if it works for your family) as long as the volume isn't up high and close to baby's ears. Out of the crib, and at a lower volume, yes. But sleep begets a happy baby, and in turn, a happy mother. Getting good sleep is vital, for the health of the whole family.
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