We’ve all heard it—“Shh! The baby is sleeping!” Parents say this to each other, to guests, and just about anyone within earshot of their sleeping baby. It’s so common that we just know it to be true. We also assume that since we like to sleep when it’s quiet that babies must, too. Unfortunately, creating a quiet sleep environment for a baby is a recipe for disaster. Doing so might seem intuitive but it’s actually one of the easiest ways to create sleep problems for your baby, and thus you!
Before they join us out in the world, babies spend nine months—or 37 to 41 weeks to be exact—in the comfort of the womb. So when they’re born, it makes sense that re-creating that environment might help soothe baby and lull them to sleep. And in some ways our assumptions about what it’s like in the womb are correct—it’s warm, dark, and cramped. Yet we also assume that it must be quiet, like a cave! After all, baby is insulated by mom’s belly and internal organs from the noises of the outside world, right? WRONG!
The womb is actually a cacophonous environment. Primarily, it’s filled with the sound of blood rushing through mom's body to the uterus. This blood flow envelops the baby in a rhythmic, calming sea of noise —WHOOSH, WHOOSH, WHOOSH! That’s the main background noise—a calming white noise—but baby is also bathed in other sounds while snug inside the womb.
There’s the sound of mom breathing. There are digestive noises, which I’m sure you know, can be quite loud at times. Plus, baby can hear the muffled noises from the outside world, too. In some cases, sharp sounds like an ambulance siren or a loud dog barking might break the din, but for the most part, the outside noise from the world simply becomes a nice quiet hum that’s relatively indistinct! Aside from familiar voices like mom or dad, babies enjoy the womb’s symphony of noise.
In fact, research has shown the volume in utero to be 80-90 decibels, or louder than a vacuum cleaner (75 decibels) or hair dryer (85 decibels)! Normal conversation is about 40 decibels and a quiet house or office can be just 10-20 decibels. If you want to understand how loud the womb, is try sticking your head underwater with a faucet turned on full blast! So for baby, silence is actually DEAFENING.
Many parents instinctively say “Shhhhh” when baby starts crying but it rarely works to calm them. Why? Because it isn’t loud enough! The sound of a baby crying is 110 decibels and if you think their crying is loud, image how loud it is to their own ears which are even closer to the source than you are! So in order for your Shh-ing to work, you’ve got to be louder than they are, at least at first! Think of it as a quick white sound alert to grab baby’s attention and stop their crying. Once baby is calm, you can decrease your own volume but until then, follow this foolproof Shh-ing technique:
With the proper technique, baby should settle in about a minute or two. If he or she isn’t, you should try Shh-ing louder or closer to baby’s ears. Or you can try combining the white sound with one of the soothing S’s.
Don’t worry about the noise being “too loud” for baby’s ears! When baby is born, their eardrums are still quite thick and very inefficient. Plus baby’s middle ear can sometimes still be clogged with fluid and vernix for weeks after birth. Combined together, baby has poor hearing and ears that act more like sound dampening machines than the sensitive hearing devices us adults are used to! So for the first few months of baby’s life, your loud Shh-ing ends up sounding more like a comforting din!
But what about using your sound machine or playing a lullaby? Turns out, despite popular beliefs, babies much prefer white sounds to rainforest noises or cutesy lullabies. The consistency and drone of the white sound is almost always best so be sure to pick something with a good constant “Shh-ing” effect and not simply something you (or the rest of your family) like to sleep to!
Unfortunately, Shh-ing at top volume (or even low volume) is exhausting. Fortunately, there are several alternatives to help save your effort for any number of other baby care related tasks you’re managing these days!
So next time your little one is screaming or in need of sleep, use white sound to recreate the womb and help them settle down and fall asleep! Loud Shh-ing is both safe and effective to help your little one feel the soothing they remember from their time in utero. Whether you need to use your own inner librarian to shush them into calm or an mechanical assistant, using white sound will have your baby sleeping soundly so you might even be able to catch some Zzz’s too!
Do you already use white sound at home? If not, will you give it a try tonight? We’d love to hear from you!
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