The Challenge of Newborn Sleep for New Parents

Being a parent is an exhilarating journey filled with joys and challenges. One of the most common hurdles new parents face is ensuring their newborn gets sufficient and quality sleep.

Sleep patterns in newborns are unpredictable, with frequent wake-ups, short naps, and the challenge of distinguishing between day and night.

The importance of sleep cannot be overstated, as it is crucial for a baby’s growth and development, as well as for the sanity and well-being of the parents.

Given the importance of sleep, it’s no wonder parents are always seeking methods and tools to help their little ones rest better. One such tool that has garnered attention over the years is white noise.

A Brief Overview of White Noise and Its Safety

White noise is a consistent sound that comes out evenly across all audible frequencies. To the human ear, it sounds like a gentle rush, similar to the sound of a fan or the static you might hear between radio stations. For many, white noise is a calming sound, and its consistent nature can mask or drown out other more disruptive noises. This is particularly useful in creating a serene environment conducive to sleep.

Is white noise safe for newborns? The short answer is, yes. When used correctly, it can be a helpful tool for parents, offering a solution to some of the sleep challenges they face with their newborns.

However, as with any tool, it’s essential to understand its proper use, benefits, and potential concerns, which we will explore further in this article.

Quick overview:

Common QuestionAnswerReference
Is white noise safe for newborns?White noise can help babies fall asleep by masking disruptive noises or mimicking the mother’s heartbeat. It is generally very safe but should not be too loud or too close to the baby’s ears.Healthline, BabyCenter, HappiestBaby
How loud should white noise be for newborns?The volume should be kept low, ideally at 50 decibels, which is about the sound level of a quiet dishwasher.TodaysParent, HuckleberryCare, WhatToExpect
How to tell if white noise is too loud for baby?Use a sound level meter or app to measure the loudness of the white noise machine. The white noise must not be louder than the baby’s crying.Babycious, HearingSolutions
How far away should white noise be from newborns?White noise machines should be placed at least 30 cm (around 1 foot) away, or as far as possible from the baby’s crib to prevent any potential hearing damage.PubMed, HuckleberryCare, AOL, TheHappySleeper
Is it ok for baby to sleep with white noise all night?Yes, but it’s recommended by some experts to set the white noise machine to shut off after the baby falls asleep, though others argue that babies might wake up looking for the sound if it isn’t there.TodaysParent
Can white noise also disturb baby sleep?Some anecdotal claims suggest that white noise might disturb some babies‘ sleep, but most parents have found white noise machines helpful for years without any negative effects.BabyCenter
Common answers and about safe use of white noise for babies.

Understanding the Safety of White Noise for Newborns

The Comforting Nature of White Noise: A Womb-like Environment

One of the reasons white noise is considered effective for newborns is because it closely resembles the sounds they heard while in the womb. Inside the womb, a baby is surrounded by constant sounds, from the mother’s heartbeat to the rush of blood and the muffled external noises.

This environment is, in many ways, loud and constant. Thus, white noise can recreate this familiar environment, making the outside world feel more like the comforting confines of the womb.

Crucial Factors: Volume and Decibel Levels

The safety of white noise largely hinges on its volume and decibel levels. Just as an excessively loud sound can be harmful to adult ears, it can also pose risks to a newborn’s delicate hearing. Interestingly, while we often think of a baby’s environment needing to be hush-hush, a baby’s own cries can reach or even exceed 100 decibels(2). As a comparison, the SNOO’s white noise levels range between 68 to 70 decibels, which is significantly softer than the baby’s cries(2).

However, it’s essential to monitor the volume closely. A 2014 study warned against using white noise machines at high volumes, specifically those that reach 85 decibels, as this might harm a baby’s hearing(3). That said, some experts suggest that the sound doesn’t start improving sleep until it reaches 60 to 70 decibels(3). The key here is balance, ensuring that the white noise is loud enough to be effective but not so loud as to be harmful.

Benefits of Using White Noise for Newborn Sleep

The Science Behind White Noise and Quicker Sleep Onset

For parents struggling with a baby who takes a long time to settle and sleep, white noise might be a game-changer. Multiple studies have underscored its effectiveness. For instance, a significant percentage of newborns exposed to white noise were found to nod off within just five minutes(3)(4).

This rapid sleep onset is a relief for both the baby and the exhausted parents!

The Longer Sleep Stretches with White Noise

It’s not just about falling asleep faster; it’s also about staying asleep longer. A study published in the BMJ highlighted that newborns sleeping in rooms with white noise not only fell asleep faster but also experienced longer, more sustained stretches of sleep(3).

Longer stretches of sleep can be instrumental in the baby’s growth and development and can also offer parents longer periods of rest or time to tend to other tasks.

Setting Up White Noise for Optimal Safety and Comfort

How Loud Should White Noise Be for Newborns?

As emphasized earlier, the volume of white noise is pivotal in ensuring its safety for babies. Recommendations from various experts seem to converge around the 60 to 70 decibels range(3).

It’s loud enough to mask disruptive noises and help in soothing the baby, but not excessively loud that it may cause any potential harm. For moments when the baby is particularly fussy or upset, you can momentarily increase the volume, but it’s crucial to reduce it once the baby has settled down.

How to Tell if White Noise is Too Loud for Your Baby

For those without a decibel meter at hand, a good rule of thumb is that you should be able to hold a normal conversation while standing next to the machine without having to raise your voice. If you find yourself needing to shout or speak much louder than usual, it’s a sign that the white noise might be too loud and needs to be turned down.

Ideal Placement: Where to Put the White Noise Machine in the Baby’s Room

The placement of the white noise machine can influence its effectiveness in masking disruptive sounds and ensuring the sound’s safety. It’s recommended to position the machine closest to potential noise sources, such as a window facing a busy street or near a door that might experience frequent usage(7). This ensures that the white noise effectively drowns out these external disturbances, creating a consistent sleep environment for the baby.

Distance Matters: How Far Away Should White Noise Be from Newborns?

Distance is another crucial factor to consider. While the noise may be set at a safe decibel level, placing the machine too close to the baby might inadvertently expose them to higher sound levels than intended. Recommendations vary, but sources suggest maintaining a distance of at least 3 feet, with others advocating for placing it at least 7 feet from the baby’s head(4)(5)(6). Placing the machine at the furthest point in the room, preferably by a door or window, can also help ensure a safe decibel level and mask external noises effectively(7).

Common Concerns and Questions

The Nightly Routine: Is it Okay for a Baby to Sleep with White Noise All Night?

For many parents, the question isn’t just about getting their baby to fall asleep but also about maintaining that sleep throughout the night. Using white noise consistently can create a stable sleep environment. There’s reassurance in knowing that the American Academy of Pediatrics even recommends white noise to improve a baby’s sleep(2). As such, it’s generally considered safe for the baby to sleep with white noise throughout the night, provided the volume is kept at a safe level(3).

Dependency Concerns: Can Babies Become Reliant on White Noise?

It’s a valid concern for parents: if my baby always sleeps with white noise, will they become dependent on it? There is some evidence suggesting that if white noise is used every night, it could be challenging for babies to fall asleep in its absence(5). As with many sleep aids, moderation and balance are key. It might be beneficial to occasionally allow your baby to sleep without white noise, helping them adapt to various sleep environments.

The Other Side of the Coin: Can White Noise Disturb a Baby’s Sleep?

While white noise can be a blessing for many parents, it’s essential to note that not every baby will respond positively. It’s crucial to observe your baby’s reactions. Some anecdotal evidence, like a mention in a TikTok video, suggests that white noise might disturb some babies’ sleep, causing them to wake up more frequently(8). Always be attuned to your baby’s needs and adjust the environment accordingly.

The Science Behind White Noise and Infants

What Research Tells Us

White noise has garnered significant attention from the scientific community, particularly for its potential benefits for infant sleep. Numerous studies have showcased its effectiveness in creating a soothing environment that effectively masks other disruptive sounds(1)(2). The effects are notable: a significant percentage of newborns exposed to white noise were found to fall asleep within five minutes(3)(4). Moreover, the BMJ published a study indicating that newborns exposed to rooms with white noise not only fell asleep faster but also enjoyed longer, more consistent stretches of sleep(3). This scientific backing, coupled with recommendations from esteemed organizations like the American Academy of Pediatrics(2), lends a strong voice to the efficacy of white noise for improving infant sleep.

The Balance Between Anecdotal Evidence and Scientific Studies

While science provides valuable insights, it’s also essential to consider the multitude of anecdotal experiences shared by parents. The world of parenting often thrives on shared wisdom, experiences, and individual observations. While many swear by the power of white noise, others recount different experiences, emphasizing that every child is unique. For instance, some parents have shared observations of their babies being potentially disturbed by white noise(8). Such anecdotal evidence highlights the importance of flexibility and adaptability, emphasizing that while white noise can be beneficial for many, it may not be the answer for all.

Concluding Thoughts: Sound Therapy and Newborn Sleep

White Noise as a Tool Among Many

While white noise has its commendable merits, it’s important to remember it’s just one tool in the vast arsenal available to parents. It can work wonders for some, while others might find solace in lullabies, gentle rocking, or even the hum of a household appliance. Being attuned to your baby’s cues and understanding their unique needs will always be paramount. White noise is undoubtedly a potent tool, but like all tools, its effectiveness lies in its judicious and informed use.

Moving Forward: Ensuring Safe and Sound Sleep for Your Newborn

As a biologist and a mother, my experience and research have shown me the profound impact of a good night’s sleep on a newborn’s development. White noise, when used safely and effectively, can significantly aid this process. However, as with all things related to your baby, vigilance, observation, and adaptation are key. Regularly check the volume, ensure proper machine placement, and always be receptive to your baby’s feedback. With the right balance, white noise can be a wonderful ally in your journey towards ensuring restful nights for your little one.

To summarize: White noise is generally considered safe and beneficial for newborns, helping them fall asleep faster and enjoy longer sleep periods. However, its safe use requires attention to volume, machine placement, and individual response. As with all parenting tools, what works for one baby might not work for another, making continuous observation and adaptability crucial.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

When should I start using white noise for my newborn?

It’s generally safe to start using white noise from the first day your baby comes home. However, you might find it particularly helpful during the “fourth trimester” (the first three months of your baby’s life), when babies often crave womb-like environments and sounds.

Can white noise be used during daytime naps as well?

Absolutely! White noise can be beneficial not only during nighttime sleep but also during daytime naps. It can help drown out daily household noises, ensuring your baby gets a sound nap without disturbances.

How long should I use white noise for my baby? Until what age?

There’s no strict age limit for the use of white noise. Many parents find it helpful well into the toddler years and even beyond. However, as your child grows and their sleep patterns mature, you might find it less necessary. It’s always good to occasionally check and see if your child still prefers it as they grow.

Are there any other sounds beneficial for newborn sleep?

Yes! While white noise is popular, there are other ambient sounds that babies might find soothing. Some babies prefer the sound of rain, ocean waves, heartbeat rhythms, or even the hum of household appliances. The key is to find what your baby responds best to.

Do I need a dedicated white noise machine, or can I use a phone app?

While there are dedicated white noise machines available with consistent sound quality and no interruptions, using a phone app can also be effective. However, if using an app, ensure that it doesn’t have disruptive ads, the sound quality is good, and the phone is placed at a safe distance from the baby to avoid any radiation concerns.


  1. BabyCenter. (Accessed October 2023). White noise for babies: Is it bad? Retrieved from​.
  2. Happiest Baby. (Accessed October 2023). Is White Noise Bad for Babies? Can It Harm Infant Hearing? Retrieved from​.
  3. What to Expect. (Accessed October 2023). The Benefits of White Noise for Babies. Retrieved from​.
  4. Today’s Parent. (Accessed October 2023). Is it safe to use white noise to help your baby sleep? Retrieved from​.
  5. NewFolks. (Accessed October 2023). Is White Noise Bad for Babies? We Weigh the Pros and Cons. Retrieved from​.
  6. UPMC HealthBeat. (Accessed October 2023). Benefits of White Noise for Babies. Retrieved from​.


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