Why Preemies Need Their Peace and Quiet

A calm environment may have big benefits for baby's developmental skills.
ByKatie Lynch
Published
Mar 2016
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Photo: Shutterstock

The outside world can be overwhelming for a newborn baby, with all the bright lights and unfamiliar sounds to deal with all at once. And this kind of environment can be especially harsh for preemies. A new study published in the journal Scientific Reports determined that for the best outcomes, premature babies need a little peace and quiet.

Specifically, study researchers wanted to look at the tactile abilities of premature babies born between 28 and 33 weeks. Previous research has already demonstrated that too much noise can interfere with a preemie’s sleep and vital signs. And previous research has also shown that premature babies have the tactile skills to become familiar with small objects—and eventually lose interest in those objects—by 28 weeks. But is there an ideal environment for them to hone these skills?

After dividing 63 babies into two groups of either noisy or quiet environments, the researchers from the University of Geneva, Grenoble University Hospital and the French National Center for Scientific Research found that the babies in the noisy environments had more trouble distinguishing between the objects they had been presented with—things like prisms and cylinders.

“As noise impairs the tactile abilities of premature babies, we may wonder what the long-term impact of such auditory stimulation may be on their neural development,” explains Fleur Lejune, a psychology instructor and author of the study. And since the time that preemies spend in the NICU is critical, it’s important that hospitals take this research to heart and work on reducing stimulation for these babies.

While having baby in the NICU can be challenging, reducing outside visual and auditory stimulation isn’t the only thing that can be done to achieve the best outcomes possible. Kangaroo care, if baby is stable enough for it, has been shown to have positive effects.

Once baby is healthy and home, introducing a little bit of noise will probably become a helpful sleep aid. Pediatrician Harvey Karp, MD, tells The Bump that because the womb is not entirely silent, white noise is a familiar and comforting sound.

“As babies get older and more aware of their surroundings, it helps cover distractions like planes, trains and even their own sounds,” Dr. Karp says, adding that it’s important to make sure you’re using the right kind of sound. “There are two different types of white noise that have completely opposite effects. High-pitched sounds are great for getting attention and calming crying. But low-pitched rumbles are what help get baby to sleep.”

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