An interesting article came across my Twitter feed yesterday. I follow ScienceNews and yesterday, this article popped up: “Too little noise is bad for newborns.”
Before I had kids, a friend of mine had twins. I remember she emailed me from the local Starbucks when the twins were a few weeks old. I couldn’t believe she was out and about already, nevermind at a coffee shop! She said something to the effect that her kids were adapting to her lifestyle, not the other way around. I wondered about the noise and whether they could sleep. She said the noise actually helped them sleep better!
Growing up, I didn’t have a lot of exposure to infants and children. My husband, on the other hand, did. At the age of 12 he was changing his nephew’s diapers. He remembers his mother always saying how it should be quiet when the baby’s sleep. When we had our firstborn, she spent the first few weeks of her life swaddled in a bassinet while we watched The Lord of the Rings Trilogy and struggled to stay awake during her feeds. [My husband was such a trooper, staying with me at nighttime for those first few weeks.]
I digress. My point being that in order to stay relatively sane, we made a point to keep up our normal lifestyle, including the noise factor, in our household. There was no “Shhh–ssshing” when she napped. Instinctively we believed that our kids should learn to sleep with some normal amount of household noise. We were lucky in the sense that our kids were pretty adaptable. We could take them with us anywhere, really. We slept over at friend’s places and brought the kids with us. They were portable. But more importantly, we never needed their environment to be super quiet for them to sleep.
Which is precisely why the article I mentioned above peaked my interest.
NICUs are loud – there are numerous machines beeping, whirring, all working to keep those little people alive, and lets not forget all the talking going on between the nurses, doctors, and parents. A few years ago, an American Academy of Pediatrics analysis suggested that all this noise actually exceeds acceptable levels (45 dBA). In response to this, many NICUs started moving away from open wards to private rooms for these little lives. Private rooms led to quieter rooms. This should be better for them, right?
Researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, studied the effects of noise, and lack thereof, on 136 preterm infants. The preterm infants (< 30 weeks gestational age) were assigned to either a ward room or private room. The primary outcome was developmental performance at 2 years of age. What they found was surprising. By the time they left the hospital, babies who stayed in private rooms had less mature brains than those who stayed in an open ward. And two years later, babies who had stayed in private rooms performed worse on language tests. ScienceNews summed it up better than I can:
The researchers believe that the noise abatement effort made things too quiet for these babies. As distressing data from Romanian orphanages highlights, babies need stimulation to thrive. Children who grew up essentially staring at white walls with little contact from caregivers develop serious brain and behavioral problems, heartbreaking results from the Bucharest Early Intervention Project show. Hearing language early in life, even before birth, might be a crucial step in learning to talk later. And babies tucked away in private rooms might be missing out on some good stimulation.
The study took place at the urban St. Louis Children’s Hospital. The parents of these 136 babies visited their babies for an average of 19 hours a week, which means that many of these babies spent a lot of time alone. Babies in private rooms might do just as well as — or better than —babies in open wards if parents were around more to talk, sing and snuggle.
Obviously more studies need to be done to figure out how best to nurture and care for these early arrivals, but it did reinforce for me one simple thing – the noisier the house, the better.
So tell me, parents, how noisy are you around your infants?