Are Babies Addicted to White Noise? Yes….and No

White noise helps colicky newborns calm and sleep.  It can help newborns develop essential self-calming skills in the first 3 months of life.  It can help older babies tolerate teething and their first colds.  It can even help babies transition to a shared bedroom with a toddler sibling.  The magic of white noise is not lost on Happiest Baby on the Block educators.  Every time I am asked if using white noise will create an addiction, I think to myself “Deeper, longer sleep patterns are an addiction most of us should have!”  Here is why parents should add white noise to their bedtime plan, and how to calm their fears of creating a “white noise addict”.

White noise is part of the 5 S’s: the five steps in The Happiest Baby on the Block plan to quickly calm a newborn and one of the 4 that you can use for sleep.  You cannot use the side/stomach positioning for sleep.  It is only for calming.

When you use white noise at the right volume and at the right frequency, it creates a barrier to the noise a child makes when he cries and to the household sounds of doors closing and siblings talking.  Newborn hearing isn’t as developed as the hearing skills of an older baby, so the standard white noise machines are often giving you less harsh and higher frequency sounds than newborns need.  This is not as effective.

What I see when a parent has been using another white noise source is that the child is not falling asleep quickly and is not fully in deep sleep.  Some parents tell me that they think he wakes more often because he needs to nurse frequently, but this pattern often makes me suspect that he is child who isn’t sleeping deeply enough so when he wakes he wants to suck to pull himself back to sleep.  The clue?  He only nurses for a tiny,super-short time and conks out.  That, my friends, is not a hungry newborn.  The hungry ones really get into it (nursing) and fill up. Take a look at Accidental Parenting at 4 Months: Out Of The Swaddle And Into The Frying Pan to see what can happen if a good routine with a plan for aging out of the 5 S’s is forgotten.

Take a listen to the “shower” or “hairdryer” sounds on Dr. Karp’s Happiest Baby tracks on iTunes to get a sense of what really works for newborns.  Older babies and children can calm down with the standard white noise machine offerings.

White noise is the one “S” from THBOTB that you never have to remove.  You can load it on a phone and use it whenever and wherever.  If you are worried about creating a child than cannot sleep without it, then take a look at your entire sleep plan.  Babies that are inadvertently taught that they have to be held to go to sleep, or they should fall asleep nursing,  will cling to that white noise more because they have not yet developed age-appropriate self-calming skills.  Yes, you start this before 12 months old!  Try to build those self-calming skills and diminish a baby’s sense that good sleep requires another human.  I know, it sounds nice to be so needed and it seems so loving, but the most loving thing we do is help children build the skills so that they have the choice to connect or be independent.  If a child has no ability to calm themselves, then he is not making the choice to cuddle.  He is desperate for the only way he knows to feel better. Without it, he is lost, frightened and struggling.

“Wings and roots” from the very beginning means teaching self-calming skills.  This does not diminish a child’s love for a parent.  It is the other way around.  Parents are the people who show a child how to be powerful and cheer their independence at every turn.  That creates a bond that is strong and flexible at the same time.  It only grows stronger and is less likely to fray during the toddler and teen struggles.

To decrease a child’s use of white noise, all you have to do now is lower the volume a little at a time, or start out sleep with white noise then turn it off.  After a few days, don’t start the bedtime routine with white noise, and see how things go.  A word of advice:  never shift a bedtime routine when other routines are also shifting.  Those shifts include:  parents returning to work, siblings returning to school, holidays, toddler roommate toilet training, etc.  Changing so much in their world at the same time is asking a lot of a baby.

Want more information or answers to your questions?  Visit my website tranquil babiesand purchase an in-home session (in the NY Metro area) or a phone/video consultation.  You will get a chance to discuss your unique situation and receive new ideas you can try tonight!


By Cathy Collyer

I am a licensed occupational therapist, licensed massage therapist, and certified CBT-i sleep coach in private practice in the NYC area. I have over 25 years of professional experience in adult and pediatric treatment. It has been a joy to help people of all ages improve their ability to grow and thrive! Occupational therapists are focused on enhancing a client's functioning in everyday life. We are practical healthcare providers, interested in teaching, adapting actions and environments, and building a client's useful skills for living their best life, regardless of their challenges. I am the author of five books, including "Staying In The Room: Managing Medical And Dental Care When You Have DID" and "The Practical Guide To Toilet Training the Autistic Child". I lecture on many subjects, including sleep, trauma, and development. Contact me to learn more about how I can help you achieve YOUR goals!

1 comment

  1. Thanks for Sharing Information!
    White noise is used to drown out any annoying background noises. It works by restoring a sound equilibrium, which means that it will help reduce the amount of noise around you that grabs your attention, and steals your sleep! Noises that commonly prevent you from falling asleep, or that cause you to wake up in the night are masked by a calming background shhhhhhh. Sounds that commonly annoy us including tinnitus, disappear from our hearing, resulting in a long, restful sleep. Shop amazing collection of White Noise Ear Buds with special discount, Hurry Up!

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