Mother and Baby

What is white noise and how can it help your baby sleep?

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Just got the little one off to sleep but desperately need to hoover the front room? Need to do a laundry cycle ASAP?

Well, doing so might not be as bad as you think, as some babies find these sounds really relaxing.

Commonly known as 'white noise', having these sounds in the background might even help babies drift off for a few hours if they're struggling to settle down.  

The sound of the sea or calming acoustic music tend to be the go-to sounds for adults when we want to relax, but when it comes to babies it’s actually white noise sounds that are more effective in creating a soothing environment, as it resembles the kind of sounds they heard in the womb.

What is white noise?

By definition, white noise is a sound that contains every frequency within the range of human hearing in equal amounts.

White noise sounds similar to TV or radio 'static', but constant background noises such as a washing machine, vacuum cleaner, fan or running water also help promote sleep in the same way.

Tips for using white noise: 

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1) Choose a noise you can tolerate

There are so many different options of white noise to try, from rain and nature noises to static or the sound of hairdryers, so get experimenting and see what works.

Search on YouTube to find what types of noises you find relaxing, and try these on your baby.

Once you’ve discovered what works, invest in an app or sleep toy with that type of sound.

You need to make sure it’s a noise that you’re happy to listen to as well as you’ll be hearing hours of it too!
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2) Get the noise just right

Maximum volume can be incredibly loud on some white noise machines so use your common sense to make sure it's not too loud for her delicate ears.

Experiment with the volume to fine-tune how well the white noise works.

Don’t raise the sound level any louder than the noise of a shower in the next room, though, and position the device well away from your baby.
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3) Only turn it on when they're ready to sleep

It can be tempting to turn white noise on in the hope it will make your baby sleepy but this won’t work and will actually just reduce its effectiveness.

Once she shows signs of being relaxed and tired, then turn on the white noise.

As soon as they wake up, turn the white noise off so it doesn’t mask the normal everyday noises which teaches them things they need to learn while alert.
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4) Think pink

Studies have found that ‘pink noise’, which is fuller, deeper or richer than white noise, actually does an even better job of improving your baby’s sleep because of its subdued quality.

Examples of pink noise include a heartbeat, rainfall and rustling leaves on a tree.

Pink noise is generally gentler on the ear and creates a more relaxed and peaceful atmosphere compared to white noise which are all a higher pitch and slightly harsh.

Like all of us, babies are individuals so take the time to find the best match for your baby.
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5) Use it as a sleep cue away from home

our baby will soon begin to associate white noise with sleep, so choose a portable sound that you can use when your away from home and little one is in a travel cot.

This will help her settle when she’s in an unfamiliar place and give you a better night's sleep too.
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6) Keep the same noise

Once you’ve found a winner, stick to it!

Use this noise exclusively and it will become part of the background as a familiar sound and your baby will accept its quiet, almost hypnotic rhythm.

Things can change though so keep an eye on your baby in case she might respond to something else in a few months’ time.

How does white noise help your baby sleep?

Whether your baby is an easy sleeper or a more challenged sleeper, white noise can help her in several ways.

Firstly, the gentle, consistent sound can soothe her to sleep. You’re probably used to whispering 'shhh shhh' to help calm your baby, which is an instinctual sound that mimics a mother’s heartbeat, and it works.

When your baby hears this type of sound, she can focus on it, which helps her relax and – hopefully - sleep.

Contrary to what you might think, the outside world can actually be quite quiet for babies, especially at night time.

After spending months in the enclosed, safe environment of the womb, they can become stressed and over-tired with the unfamiliar sights, sounds, and smells, which often leads to crying and colic.

When your little one was in your womb at 15 weeks of gestation, your baby was starting to hear.

The sounds she heard were muffled by amniotic fluid, but you can use noises that mimic that womb sound to soothe and comfort your baby at nap time, AKA white noise.

White noise is a familiar sound that keeps them calm and helps them drift off to sleep.

Dr. Karp explains in an article in The Huffington Post, that babies are used to the loud whoosh of blood rushing through the placenta – and it’s even noisier than a vacuum cleaner.

"This sound switches on the calming reflex and helps infants drift into slumber.

"No wonder babies fall asleep when they hear a hair drier, take a car ride or go to a noisy party," he explains.

One study found that white noise helped 80% of babies fall asleep within five minutes so it’s really worth trying – with older babies and toddlers as well as newborns.

Read more: Try to help your baby sleep soundly for longer.

Types of white noise for baby sleep:

Shushing: Mimicking the continual whooshing sound made by the blood flowing through arteries near the womb, shushing is a long-known method of calming a distressed baby – especially combined with a gentle swinging motion.  

White noise app: Instead of running the hoover for hours on end (and facing a monstrous electricity bill!) download a white noise app which has hundreds of noises to choose from. We like White Noise Lite, which is free to download. 

A fan: The constant whooshing noise of a fan is also a good bet for background noise, aiding your baby’s sleep.

There are pros and cons of using white noise for your baby - we investigate some of the good and bad things below:

Pros of white noise for babies:

  • Babies can fall asleep faster
  • Can be comforting for newborns
  • Can block out background noise or noise of older siblings

Cons of white noise for babies:

  • Some machines could exceed the recommended noise limit for babies
  • Babies can become dependent on the white noise machine to sleep, so they could struggle to nod off without it in the future
  • Not all babies like or respond well to white noise

Does white noise help your baby? Let us know on Facebook or Twitter!

Now read on Mother&Baby:

10 tips to help your little ones get to sleep that *really* work

Reasons why your toddler may be waking in the night

  • Author: Emily Thorpe Emily Thorpe
  • Job Title: Digital Writer

Having worked for Mother&Baby magazine for four years where she wrote news and product pages, features and  interviewed celebrities such as Paloma Faith, Fearne Cotton and Alex Jones, Emily now works as Digital Writer for Mother&Baby online.

A fondness for travel, chocolate and her sausage dog Luna, in her spare time. Emily also runs the lifestyle blog, Musings & More.


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