White noise - the sound of sleep

Having white noise in the background can help babies to get to sleep, but it can be a real case of trial and error as to what works, finds Christine Nikiel.

When a friend gifted us a Sleep Sheep when our first child was born, we thought we’d found the magic method for getting a baby to sleep. For a couple of weeks the shush-shush-shush of ‘Sheepy’s’ ocean waves, set to the loudest level, consistently sent our little girl off to dreamland for a couple of hours at a time. We felt so smug.

Then she moved out of her newborn phase.

I tried a number of other 'white noise' ideas to recreate those sleeps - the vacuum cleaner left on outside her door , parking her bassinet next to the dishwasher. I bought Dr Harvey Karp’s Happiest Baby On The Block DVD, which promotes the 5 S’s, of which a loud, continuous “shushing “ is the first. But creating a constant loud 'shush' was like trying to play the didgeridoo* and I got so lightheaded from the unnatural breathing that I nearly passed out. My husband and I came up with some alternative S-words for Dr Harvey’s methods, and dumped his DVD in the bin.

When our little girl was really strung out, I found holding her in the bathroom with the shower on (cold) sometimes helped. She didn't like being in the car, often crying only while it moved. The only thing that usually worked was pushing her in the pram with a blackout cover on. We had to be going somewhere noisy though; just pushing her around the living room or back and forth in one spot never worked. She seemed to respond best to cars wooshing along our suburban streets, and bumpy footpaths. I got nice and fit, and came to know the neighbourhood well.

White noise refers to continuous sounds that mask other sounds, and is mostly associated with helping babies get to sleep. It blocks all those sudden and stimulating noises – dogs barking, people talking, doors shutting, kids playing – that can disturb a baby while he’s trying to nod off.

A 1990 study published in the US Archives of Disease in Childhood found that 80 % of newborns were able to fall asleep after five minutes of hearing white noise.

Not all babies will respond well to white noise, but remember, your baby has spent his life inside a noisy womb, so constant noise is his normal.

Yes, baby could start to depend on it for sleep, but he'll come to depend on lots of other stuff too. We all have our sleep associations and needs: I need three pillows to be comfortable (and I’m not even pregnant). Given how easy white noise is to use, and what a strong sleep cue it can be, I'd say it is a pretty positive sleep association.

If you’re still worried that your 10-year old may need his womb noises to get to sleep, don’t be. You can wean baby off his white noise by turning the sound down a little every day for however long it takes.

YouTube has hundreds of hours of white noise available, and there are numerous apps of rain on roofs or ocean waves crashing. Some people swear by the static from a radio, others love electric fans or dehumidifiers. There are even special ‘womb sounds’ - watery sounds with a heartbeat - to mimic what baby would have heard inutero.

With a little trial and error, you’ll find out what your baby likes best.

*Involves ‘circular breathing’ - continually blowing air down the didgeridoo without ever stopping for breath.

I asked our Facebook community what white noise they relied on. Here’s what they said:

The Sound Sleeper app is good. I like the rain white noise and hushing for my three month old.

A Sleep Sheep

Youtube, womb sounds. It's free and works instantly!

I use the White Noise app, and shut off my cell reception as not to expose the baby while it plays.

His room shares a wall with the bathroom, I've turned the shower on (cold) as white noise

Not white noise but we got a Lula doll for Mr 1 who was the most awful sleeper - hands down best thing I've ever brought. He never responded to white noise, unlike his brother

Washing machine noise is the bizzo :)

Rain :) downloaded an app on our iPad and she loves the sound of it.

We have white noise that plays for day time naps, and brahms lullaby on repeat for overnight to differentiate

Ocean waves gently crashing. We play it all night and all through day sleeps, works a treat!

Heartbeat sounds

Radio static

I found the vacuum cleaner great for my first, house was always nicely cleaned, one bonus!

I have Ewan the Dream Sheep. The womb noises were the most effective for him. It was good we had a choice of sounds

Hubby loaded an mp3 player and speaker with Enya. Works a treat with our twins

I used a white sound machine on the "wave" function. It worked sometimes. I WON a Lulla doll and it works a treat. Especially good for keeping her asleep too. Any loud noises etc ...she wakes and goes straight back to sleep.

Fisher Price seahorse, used for 18 months and still works a treat

White noise from a CD from itunes and we have progressed to relaxation or spa type music to mask the household sounds too :-)

White noise all the way! I don't need to use it at night but without it during the day my wee man fight and fights his sleeps. I used baby shusher on my phone till it died now just YouTube but works every time.

I use a cheap Warehouse radio, untuned, perfect white noise :)

Relax Melodies app on an iPhone through a Sony speaker. It's crucial that the tone of the white noise doesn't stimulate and usually resembles a vacuum or fan and it's a specific app, used it for years

The train sound on a white noise app. Works about 80 percent of the time :)

My 3 year old and 1 year old share a bedroom and drift off to the sound of the classical radio station....they love it!

The Baby Shusher (the sleep miracle) works wonders! even puts mummy and daddy to sleep

A fan

Running water


My one-year old has had the fish tank in his room his whole life, the running water through the filter has always been a constant sound in his life.

My mouth... ssssssshhhhhhhh!

Vacuum cleaner from an app when my son was five months. He is ten months now and it doesn't work anymore.

 Spotify Womb Noise since birth for my 5 month old.

Lullabies or classical music, plus womb noise and sometimes the well as the good old shhhhhhhh!

My baby loves the sound of rain...settles him as soon as it is turned on! In fact as it is on my phone it means I can use it when I’m out.



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