By Elizabeth Pantley, author of The No-Cry Sleep Solution for Newborns
It’s almost like newborn babies distrust totally quiet rooms. This makes sense, since they lived for nine months in an environment that was filled with a 24/7 sound-surround of noises: heartbeat, digestive system gurgling and the whoosh of blood through veins. If we consider this history, we can understand how a gentle thrum of background noise can be soothing to a newborn baby.
I’ve heard of “white noise,” but what is “pink noise”?
White noise is an indistinct background hum, such as the rumble of a motor, the drone of a fan, the sounds of a quietly talking group of people, or the swish of ocean waves. It’s a sound that you don’t focus on, but overlays all other sounds in the room.
Pink noise is a variant of white noise that sounds deep, rich, and monotonous. Perfect examples of pink noise are the sounds of heartbeats, ocean waves, the patter of rainfall, or the rustling of leaves on a tree. In contrast, examples of pure white noise include things like a vacuum cleaner, the static between stations on a radio, and the squeal of a hair dryer, which are all made up of higher pitches and intensities. As you can see, there are subtle but important differences that make pink noise gentler on the ear and a better match for aiding sleep.
Is it safe to use noise when my baby sleeps?
Yes, white/pink noise is safe for your baby if you keep a few things in mind. First, watch the volume. It should be about the noise level of a bathroom shower, any louder and you could harm your newborn’s delicate hearing. Put your head down to the place where your baby sleeps to check the volume for the level that sounds comfortable.
The second important safety factor is to place the source of the noise a distance away from your baby. A few feet of distance is all you need, perhaps placed a nightstand or dresser opposite your baby’s bed.
What are the best sources of sleep noise?
Since more and more people are discovering the beauty of white and pink noise for sleep there are many choices. You can find stuffed animals with noise mechanisms inside, countertop clock-type devices and CDs. Shop around for sounds that you find pleasant. Choose a machine that does not turn off automatically, since these sounds can be used throughout an entire nap and even all night long.
Will the noise be annoying to us? We plan to have our newborn sleep in our room.
That’s a great plan, since all the major health groups do recommend that your newborn sleep in your bedroom. This will allow you to keep an eye and ear on your little one all night long.
The good news is that most people find pink noise surprisingly relaxing. It may take a week or two to get used to it, but once you do it will blend into your nighttime routine easily. If one of you finds it disturbing to your sleep keep the noise on the opposite side of the room and turn down the volume.
It’s important to choose a noise that you enjoy as much as your baby, since it may be something you rely on throughout babyhood and often into toddlerhood. A common favorite is the sound of ocean waves (maybe it will remind you of your trip to the beach!) or the soothing sound of rainfall. You can find white noise machines that feature these and other favorites.
— Elizabeth Pantley is a mother of four, grandmother, and author of the bestselling book, The No-Cry Sleep Solution for Newborns plus 8 other books in the No-Cry Solution Series, which helps Moms and Dads through all key stages of parenting.