Q: Why does white noise help soothe colicky babies?

Q: Why does white noise help soothe colicky babies?

Asked by Betty


Karen’s thoughts:

White noise has been shown time and time again to calm babies down when they’re having bouts of colic. Experts suggest that this is because the sound of humming ambient noise mimicks the sound of what was heard when a baby was still in the womb. This is why saying “ssshhhhhh” into a baby’s ears has a calming effect. It is a conditioned response resulting from a baby being exposed to nine months of heavenly warmth and comfort inside the womb, enjoyed to the soundtrack of the muted ambient noise of the outside world.

During serious bouts of colic, many parents will strap their baby in a car and drive around the neighbourhood. The auditory white noise (or brown noise, to be more specific) created by the car’s engine permeates the vehicle interior, and pampers a baby with the low soothing frequencies similar to those heard inside the womb.

Other parents will put their baby in a baby carrier and set it down next to a clothes dryer that’s running, or a dishwasher that’s turned on and churning water.

But here’s a handy trick that’ll save you lots of time with your colicky baby, and the effects are immediate: the next time your baby experiences a bout of colic, carry your baby to a bathroom or kitchen sink and turn on the faucet. Don’t put the baby in the sink! Hold your baby near the faucet so that his or her ears are approximately five inches away from the stream of running water. The white noise that’s created from the running water will instantly lull your baby into a calm and quiet trance, and all crying will stop within only a few seconds. It works like magic.

Of course, it’s impractical to leave your clothes dryer or dishwasher running the entire day. And driving your baby around the neighbourhood for hours on end for the sole purpose of quelling the symptoms of colic will drive you nuts. So here’s what I recommend doing if your baby has colic…

Get yourself a pair of stereo speakers. These speakers should be in a room that’s shared with the baby’s crib. Place the speakers more than five feet away from the crib, and if it has a volume control, make sure it’s set to a comfortable volume. Now, hook the speakers up to a computer, laptop, iPod, iPad, or iPhone. Make sure the device’s volume is also at a comfortable setting. It shouldn’t be too loud, but it also shouldn’t be too quiet that the baby doesn’t hear it. The device should be plugged into a power outlet as well, so that you can play white noise audio on it whenever you want — and without having to worry about recharging it. Next, transfer a white noise audio file (such as an MP3 of a waterfall) onto your device. From here on out, whenever your baby experiences colic, lay your baby down into his or her crib, and play the audio file on the device. The white noise recording will flow through the speakers and create a cocoon of soothing sonic frequencies for your baby. Fits of crying should be quelled within only a few seconds, in most cases.

This method of quelling the symptoms of baby colic conserves much more energy and resources when compared to water-hungry alternatives, and your utility bills will be much lower. I often recommend it to new moms and dads.