1. Newborns
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Sleep and noise: premature babies in the NICU

0-3 months

Premature babies need sleep so that their brains and bodies can grow and develop. But a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) can be a noisy place. Hospitals work hard to keep the noise down, and you can help by monitoring what’s going on around your premature baby.

How NICU noise affects your premature baby’s sleep

The neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) can be a noisy place. Even though nursing staff try hard to keep things quiet, NICU noise often goes above the ideal level. This can make it hard for premature babies to get a good sleep.

If there’s too much noise, your premature baby might not sleep for as long or as well, or the noise might keep waking him up. Too much noise can also affect his blood pressure.

The other thing that might stop your premature baby from sleeping well is being woken for medical treatments.

Premature babies sometimes ‘switch off’ in response to noise. This can be helpful for them in a noisy environment, but it can interfere with your bonding with your baby. It means that it’s good to make the most of talking to your baby during her alert times.

Keeping the noise down in the NICU

Modern NICUs are built and furnished to help keep the noise down.

For example, carpet is sometimes used because it absorbs noise, although it needs to be cleaned with noisy vacuum cleaners. Pull-off paper sheets are often used instead of tear-off paper towelling, and plastic containers can be used instead of metal ones.

Staff also work hard to cut down on noise. For example, they always try to close portholes on incubators quietly, remove water from the ventilator frequently to keep the bubbling noise down, respond to alarms quickly, and open packaging away from incubators.

What you can do

As well as engaging quietly with your premature baby, you can keep an eye – or an ear! – on the noise level in the NICU.

If you feel it’s too loud, you could ask staff about how you could work together to bring the noise level down. You could also suggest to visitors that they talk more quietly or talk outside.

Try not to talk to someone across the top of your baby’s incubator, or use the top as a shelf. You can ask people to move away or speak more quietly if you think they’re disturbing your baby.

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Last updated or reviewed
12-05-2016

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Raising Children Network is supported by the Australian Government. Member organisations are the Parenting Research Centre and the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute with The Royal Children’s Hospital Centre for Community Child Health.

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