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Health & Baby

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Baby 'Sleep Machines' Could Damage Hearing: Study

Keep volume low and place device well away from crib, expert says


Parents may wonder, is there really something wrong with playing the sounds of a chirping bird for your baby? Papsin said that at a soft volume intended to soothe -- and not to drown out your TV -- there should be no risk to tiny ears.

But he questioned whether there could be something wrong with exposing developing infants to a steady, monotonous sound all night, instead of the varying sounds of their environment -- like parents talking, or the distant noises from outdoors.

The "auditory pathways" to the brain are developing during infancy, Papsin noted. And animal research has found that prolonged exposure to white noise during infancy can alter the brain's processing of sound, and the animals' behavior.

"Is white noise really what the brain wants during sleep?" Papsin said. "Or is it better to have silence and some intermittent noise? We don't know."

There's no evidence that sleep machines harm infant development. But Martin agreed that it's a question to consider.

"Is it a good thing to train infants to need steady noise to go to sleep?" she said. It's possible, for instance, that as they get older, some of those children could have more difficulty tuning out everyday "background" noise.

"We don't know if there could be longer-term consequences," Martin said.

Papsin suggested that before buying a sleep machine, parents try soothing their baby to sleep in other ways -- like a warm bedtime bath and an old-fashioned lullaby.

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