Newborns, Your Growing Baby

Protecting your baby from too much noise

Dr Lisa Seerup

Doctor of Audiology, President at Hearing New Zealand

Your baby’s ears are delicate and more susceptible to hearing loss than an adult’s. The muscles that protect babies’ hearing are not fully developed.

Sound is similar to warmth. Too little warmth and baby is cold; too much and they overheat. We want them right in the middle, where whānau, music and the sound around us cuddle them like a favourite blanket.

It is easy to see and feel when your baby is too hot or cold, but sound is something you can’t see.

So how loud is too loud? The easiest way to find out is to measure the volume with a free sound level meter on your phone: 70 dB is the loudest your baby should experience over a prolonged period. The louder the noise, the less time your baby should be exposed to it.

Sound is also similar to heat in that the farther away you are from it, the less you feel it. We know that touching a fire is risky, but we often don’t think about how close a sound is to a baby’s ear. The test is that if it is loud next to your ear, it’s probably dangerous for baby.

Fifty percent of all noisy baby toys tested by the University of Minnesota exceeded safe limits when they were used according to the directions. Sometimes the sound source only needs to be moved a few centimetres away to make it safe. This includes things like baby shushers.

Taking your baby out in the world can also expose them to unsafe levels of noise – cafés, busy streets, walking past construction sites.

We know that loud sound can damage your baby’s hearing, but unwanted or annoyance sound can also cause problems. The human ear is extremely sensitive, and it never rests, so even when you’re asleep, your ears are working.

If your baby isn’t sleeping well, perhaps their environment is too noisy or too quiet.

Maybe they don’t like your choice of music. How many times, really, can you listen to ‘Baby Shark’? Perhaps try classical, opera or even rap music. If you don’t like the music, it is too loud, regardless of how loud it actually is. Your baby is the same.

Perhaps your baby is not a music lover and finds ocean or bird sounds, or car noise, more comforting. Or possibly they just like quiet.

Recommended sound level measuring apps
» NIOSH sound level meter, iOS only
» Decibel Pro, iOS and Android
» Sound Meter, Android only
» Noise Detector, Android only


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