How NICU noise affects sleep for sick or premature babies
The neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) can be a noisy place. Staff try hard to keep things quiet and follow guidelines to minimise noise. But sometimes NICU noise can go above the ideal level, which can cause stress and discomfort and affect babies’ sleep.
If there’s too much noise, your baby might not sleep for as long or as well, or the noise might keep waking them up.
The other thing that might stop your baby from sleeping well is being woken for medical treatments.
When babies sleep well and are calm, it’s good for their health, growth and development.
Sick or premature babies can shut their eyes, turn away from you or get agitated in response to noise. This can help babies in a noisy environment, but it can interfere with bonding with your baby. It means that it’s good to make the most of talking to your baby when they’re alert and relaxed.
Keeping the noise down in the NICU
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. Padded covers might be placed over incubators.
Staff also work hard to cut down on noise. For example, they always try to close portholes on incubators quietly, remove water from ventilators frequently to keep the bubbling noise down, respond to alarms quickly, and open packaging away from incubators.
NICUs might also have quiet times each day.
What you can do to help with NICU noise
As well as engaging quietly with your 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 can also try not to talk to people across the top of your baby’s incubator or use the top as a shelf. And it’s OK to ask people to move away, speak more quietly, or talk outside if you think they’re disturbing your baby.