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Neonatal and NICU Noise Control

  • Remind staff and visitors to keep their noise down
  • Reduce the harmful influence of high noise levels
  • Helps to reduce stress levels in infants
  • Unbiased view of the actual noise level

Hospitals with concern about the noise levels in neonatal, intensive care and children's wards are our biggest customers for the noise warning sign. Babies in intensive care are particularly sensitive to high noise levels and to the increased stress that they cause.

Noise from visitors and staff is best dealt with using a device such as the SoundEar as it is not influenced by the complicated human perception of noise.

noise in neonatal and nicu
Noise in Neonatal and NICU

Neonatal units, like most hospital environments, tend to be very poor acoustically due hard, reflective surfaces. Beds are often closely spaced, visitors can talk loudly (especially the younger ones) and staff have to work quickly and move equipment about. Add to this the incubators being opened and closed, occasional tapping on the lid and items dropped accidentally and the noise levels soon become unpleasant for the baby. One of the biggest culprits is the alarm, which is clearly essential, but as the background noise levels get higher the alarm has to be louder still. A quieter background allows for quieter alarms.

Immediate Effects of NICU Noise

The immediate effects of noise in the neonatal unit are reasonably clear. The baby's sleep is easily disturbed and sudden loud noises (bangs on the incubator for example) can have a startling affect on the heart rate and breathing patterns.

High and intermittent noise is also unpleasant and distracting for both staff and parents. Defined "Quiet Times", when noise and light levels are kept down, certainly help and are now used in many units.

Long Term Effects of NICU Noise

The long term effects of noise in the NICU are not so obvious. Hearing impairment as a result of exposure to high noise levels can be expected but research over the last few years has also shown a link with language development. This seems to be related to the fact that a baby that goes full term is only exposed to lower frequency noise (< 250 Hz) during the brain and sensory development stages.

Useful Links - Articles by Hospitals and Other Medical Professionals

Johns Hopkins eNeonatal Review - February 2006, Volume 3, Number 6
Interesting articles and informative commentary on the acoustic environment of the NICU and particularly on the development of the brain and sensory mechanisms. There is evidence that unusual stimulation in the third trimester of pre term babies, such as noise levels that are much higher than they would have been in the uterus, can result in atypical brain development.

Rutgers University - [PDF file] - NICU Noise & Language Development
An article entitled Neonatal Intensive Care Unit Unit Noise & Language Development. A mother's body attenuates most frequencies about 250 Hz, so the baby is only exposed to low frequency noise. Pre term babies are exposed to these higher frequencies and this could have an influence in language development. Research carried out asks parents about the acoustic environment of the NICU and compares the results with the later language development.

Nursing Spectrum - Quiet Riot - Turn down the volume
A nice article about noise and its effect on premature babies. It includes notes about the effect of noise on such babies and some obvious but often missed tips on how to reduce the noise levels, from turning off radios to using sound-absorbing decor.

American Academy of Pediatrics - Noise: A Hazard for the Fetus and Newborn
Some information about the development hearing in the fetus and the effects of noise on the newborn and premature baby.

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