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Ideally, your child sleeps well through the night without the need for any sort of sleep aid. Realistically though, many babies need time to develop a healthy sleep routine. This is a tiresome aspect of parenting. Mothers and fathers often suffer from sleep deprivation because of their kid's lack of consistent sleep patterns. Many parents turn to sleep aids, like white noise machines, to help their babies sleep.

Like many parents, you may wonder how adding a sound machine to your nursery will affect your child. A group of Canadian health professionals and researchers conducted a study to determine the maximum output levels of baby sound machines. The results were published in the April 2014 issue of the journal Pediatrics. While researchers didn't specifically test the direct effects on infants' hearing (only the potential for harm), the researchers recommend that white noise machines be used in small doses on low volume far away from the baby's ears.

Dr. Papsin, one of the lead researchers and an ear surgeon at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, wishes to warn parents about the potential risk of using a white noise machine. He also wants manufacturers to modify these infant sound machines to have a lower maximum volume level. In testing 14 sound machines, the research team found that three of them delivered over 85 decibels, which is beyond the safe limit for adult workplaces. All the machines tested were capable of producing at least 50 decibels, which is the noise limit set for hospital nurseries. When placed across the room (about 6.5 feet away from the baby), 13 of the baby sound machines reached 50 decibels.

Some doctors question the brain's ability to process sounds if the baby is exposed to prolonged periods of white noise. Babies' ear canals are straighter with a wider opening, which may account for some of the researcher's concerns about decibel levels. Sounds travel differently through a baby's ear than through an adult's ear. The monotonous and steady sounds from a white noise machine may interfere with the baby's ability to identify sound variations in its environment. This may ultimately affect the child's ability to sleep comfortably in settings where white noise isn't present.

Proponents of sound machines for babies say that the results of this study have led to the wrong conclusions and that baby sound machines aren't harmful to your baby's hearing. While there is no direct evidence that sleep machines harm hearing, there are questions about their safety when these machines run all night at a high volume and within close proximity to the child.

To be cautious and limit the amount of sound pressure traveling into the baby's developing ears, it may be appropriate to choose a white noise machine for your baby that comes with a built-in timer and automatic shut-off feature. That way, you can ensure that the device doesn't run continuously through the night. Other safeguards include using sound machines that can be housed as far away from the baby as possible and at a lower volume. Given this guidance, baby sound machines attaching to the crib may be less desirable than those that can be placed across the room.

In any case, it's important that you make educated decisions about the supplies you purchase for your baby. Consider the pros and cons of using a baby sound machine and make the best choice for you and your child.

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