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Sensory Integration, Noise and Your Baby in the NICU

How to reduce noise in the NICU to protect your premature baby's sensitive hearing. Loud noises can stress your young baby, but as your baby grows she can handle more sound stimulation.

By TrezMarie T. Zotkiewicz, RNC-NIC

The ears begin to develop in the fourth week of gestation, and the sense of hearing continues to develop until the baby reaches term. As your baby grew during pregnancy, she was exposed to a variety of sounds, such as your heartbeat, sounds of digestion, blood pulsing through your vessels, and external sounds including others' voices.

Although the premature infant can hear quite well, the sense of hearing is still quite vulnerable. Continuous loud noises can not only harm your baby's haring, but also produce stress, as seen by changes in heart rate, breathing, blood pressure, and oxygen needs.

Monitor alarms and caregiving activities that create unwanted noise are necessary for your baby's care. Many NICU's try to reduce unwanted noise by creating a soothing environment that helps protect your baby's hearing. Some of the things you may see in the NICU that help to reduce noise include:

  • Playing only soft, soothing music
  • Talking quietly near infants and away from areas where infants are sleeping
  • Placing reminder signs near babies who are very sensitive to noise
  • Covering the top of the bed with a blanket to muffle the sound of anything placed on top of it
  • Closing incubator portholes and doors carefully and quietly
  • Placing earmuffs over your baby's ears to help decrease noise
  • Removing telephones or silencing the ringer in patient areas
  • Providing special "quiet rooms" or areas for babies who are especially sensitive to noise

As your baby grows and begins to heal, more sound can be introduced. How that stimulation is introduced will depend on your baby. It may mean moving your baby out of the "quiet room," removing earmuffs, or providing sounds for your baby to hear.

It is so important to talk to your baby. Your baby can recognize your voice and will turn toward you when you speak as she gains strength and heals. Some parents find it helpful to provide audiotapes of themselves reading or talking, and some include soft music. Many NICU staff find that parents' voice recording often help the baby to quiet and settle down to sleep.

This excerpt about vision impairment risk for preterm infants from the book "Newborn Intensive Care" is copyright by the American Academy of Pediatrics. Reprinted with permission.

TrezMarie T. Zotkiewicz, RNC-NIC, MN, APRN is theMaternal-Child Clinical Nurse Specialist and Child Developmental Consultant in New Orleans, Louisiana. You can learn more about the book in our preemie book reviews.

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