Mar 6, 2014 Post By: Children's Health

Can Infant Sleep Machines Cause Hearing Loss in Babies?
How loud is your infant sleep machine? A recent AAP study reveals that exposure to white noise through a sleep machine can lead to hearing loss in infants.

Throughout her career, Heather Duge has written extensively about a wide variety of pediatric topics. Now, she is particularly focused on telling stories about her experiences as a proud new mother of a beautiful baby girl named EllieKate.

As soon as I shared the news that I was pregnant last March, friends with babies encouraged me to “sleep now because you won’t for a long time.” I realized then that sleep is one of the hottest topics among the new mommy group.

Last week, we shared three tips to help your child fall asleep without assistance. But once baby’s eyes are finally closed, how do you keep a light sleeper from waking up? The answer for many new moms, like me, is white noise produced by an infant sleep machine.

However, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), parents could be trading one problem for another. A recent AAP study about infant sleep machines published on March 3 reveals that exposure to white noise through a sleep machine can lead to hearing loss in infants.

What the AAP Study Reports

It turns out that too much of a good thing can be harmful, according to the AAP study and this Good Morning America video about infant sleep machines report. The AAP study tested noise levels in 14 different infant sleep machines and found that all of them exceeded the current recommended noise limit for infants, 50 decibels.

Regular exposure to white noise not only affects hearing but can also alter speech and language development. The recommendation is for parents to move infant sleep machines more than 200 centimeters from the crib and to lower the volume to avoid these damaging effects.

I talked to Angela Shoup, Ph.D., an audiologist at Children’s and Associate Professor, Otolaryngology, and Director, Division of Communicative & Vestibular Disorders at UT Southwestern, about this topic. She says that many children’s toys can be too loud, even for short durations.

“It is important not only to consider the loudness level of the sound and how close the noise generator is to the ear but also the duration of exposure,” says Dr. Shoup.  “Our ears need a rest, and a sound that is not loud enough to damage our hearing if presented over a short period of time may be damaging if presented over a long period of time.”

Is an Infant Sleep Machine on Your Baby Registry?

Last summer while my husband and I were registering for all things baby, an infant sleep machine was at the top of our list. When we came across a Sleep Sheep with five sounds that promised to not only soothe our baby to sleep but also help her stay that way, we were sold on it.

I envisioned nights of turning on the sheep, laying EllieKate in her bassinet and watching her drift off into dreamland. While it didn’t work out quite like that, I do think the sound machine is helpful.

EllieKate’s favorite noise since birth has been the rainfall. It drowns out the doorbell ringing, our dog barking at the mailman and the hardwood floors creaking when we walk in the nursery.

We fully understand why this dream machine is the must-have baby item for many of our friends. In fact, I have already recommended it to a mom-to-be who will deliver twins this summer.

However, after reading the AAP study, now I’m more cautious about how loud we have it and how close it is to our baby’s bed while she sleeps.

One thing’s for sure, as of tonight, EllieKate’s Sleep Sheep will definitely be taken down a notch.