Close up of sleeping, swaddled newborn baby girl

Infant Sleep Machines May Damage Hearing

Babies are a precious gift. They come into this world innocent, small and helpless. They laugh, smile, coo, and break our hearts every day. What they often DON’T do is sleep. And of all the things we hope for our children, quality sleep habits are often at the top of the list.

One strategy parents use to help promote healthy sleep habits is an infant sleep machine. These are machines that often provide a constant sound such as: white noise, ocean sounds, rainforest sounds, heartbeats, etc. I myself have had a noise machine in both of my children’s rooms at night, and have done so since they were each about 3 months old. My children are now 2 and 4 years old – and they still use these sleep machines to sleep. They are so important to my husband and I that we have purchased back-up devices in case one stops working – because again, we will do ANYTHING for a good night’s sleep.

But – should we be concerned about the level of noise coming from these machines that we play near our little ones ears all night long? As an audiologist I have always felt comfortable using these noise machines. And really, why would I ever worry? These machines are often marketed as helping babies sleep and certainly don’t come with a warning label? However, a new study found many of these noise machines are capable of producing noise levels that are dangerous to infants if used incorrectly. So – NOW WHAT?

Here are some tips to safely use noise machines with your sleeping baby without worry:
1. NEVER set the machines at FULL VOLUME.
2. Maximize the DISTANCE between the machine and your baby at all times.
3. If you cannot hear someone talking within 3 feet of you – TURN IT DOWN.
4. If you have to raise your voice to be heard – TURN IT DOWN.
5. If your ears feel muffled after listening for a few minutes – TURN IT DOWN.

So what’s an acceptable noise level? 30 decibels is a whisper, 50 decibels is normal conversation, 80 decibels is a hairdryer and it is at 80 decibels that we become concerned.

It is up to us as parents and caregivers to make all the decisions to give our children the best chance at life. We make so many decisions – all of them intended to be good. I feel that using infant noise machines to help babies sleep is still safe – as long as we have the information at hand to know when noise becomes dangerous. If you follow the above tips, you are on the right track. And if you ever feel concerned about your child’s hearing – you can always schedule a hearing test with an audiologist for more information. Until then, I wish you and your children a good night’s rest!

Click here for frequently asked questions and information on our Audiology clinic.

To learn more about sleep machines, Listen to Dr. Mike Patrick’s PediaCast Episode.

Gina Hounam, PhD
Gina Hounam is a member of the Audiology Department at Nationwide Children’s Hospital. She moved to Columbus in 2011 to begin her journey at Nationwide Children’s – but her heart was in Columbus long before that as she is a graduate of The Ohio State University. Gina received a B.A. in Speech and Hearing Science in 1998 at OSU and then went to the University of Cincinnati for her M.A. and PhD in Audiology. Her professional interests include relationship-centered care, community outreach, newborn hearing screenings and hearing aids. Gina’s personal interests focus mainly on her boys’ club, including her husband of 9 years and her two little boys ages 3 and 17 months. As an avid dog lover, Gina also enjoys time with the only other girl in the home, their Golden Retriever Sydney Bella.

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