As a pregnant woman, even the smallest or the most seemingly-normal things may have you doubt and question yourself. You may find yourself in a constant battle of obsessively trying to do everything right. One of such things that may have you worried during pregnancy is loud noises. Are loud noises harmful to my baby? Does this exposure to noise affect my fetus’s growth? Do loud noises impact my baby’s hearing?
Parenthood Bliss brings to you an exhaustive article about the impact of hearing loud noises during pregnancy and everything you need to know about it!
Is An Exposure To Loud Noises Unsafe For A Pregnant Woman & The Fetus?
While exposure to loud noise may not particularly be harmful to a mother and her growing fetus; “prolonged exposure” to loud noises, as per The Centers For Disease Control And Prevention, can be unsafe for pregnant mothers and the growing fetuses. Prolonged loud sounds and noise may not only affect the hearing of the mother but can also pose a risk of potential hearing problems in the baby.
What Kind Of Noise Is Dangerous For Pregnant Women?
The definition of noise is rather subjective. While loud rock music may be a symphony to someone’s ear, it may be noise to another’s. Any unpleasant or unwanted sound is broadly categorized as noise and having said that, it should be understood that not all noise is harmful to pregnant women and the fetus. Instead, it is typically a continuous or prolonged exposure to the noise that is dangerous.
The simplest way to understand noise as a pregnant woman is to listen to your gut. if a sound irritates you and makes you feel unpleasant/ uncomfortable, it is noise and most likely, not favorable for your baby’s growth.
Some examples of noise, the prolonged exposure to which can be harmful to a pregnant woman, include-
- Sounds of explosives and fireworks
- Factory operational sound
- Emergency siren sound
- Sound of intense music (electronic music, techno music, rock music, punk music, etc)
- Sounds of frame tractors
- Machinery sound
What Is The Impact Of Loud Noises On Pregnant Women?
Now that we have established that exposure to prolonged loud noise during pregnancy can potentially harm not only the fetus but also the mother, let’s understand how loud noises impact pregnant women.
- Impaired hearing: The World Health Organization (WHO) suggests that high exposure to noises can cause damage to the auditory system of an expecting mother. Loud noise can also further cause a distorted perception of sounds and tinnitus.
- High production of stress hormones: Pregnant women may potentially have to suffer from more stress when exposed to loud noises. The increased production of the stress hormone can further increase the risk for low birth weight and premature birth.
- Higher chances of cardiovascular diseases: The Centers For Disease Control And Prevention explains that increased physiological stress in the body activates the autonomic nervous system as well as the endocrine system. This activation and change, in turn, can potentially alter multiple factors like blood pressure, lipid levels, the cardiac output which causes an increased risk of cardiovascular diseases.
- Premature delivery and low birth weight: It is established by The Indian Academy of Pediatrics that women who are exposed to more than 80 decibels of sound during eight hours of occupation are at a high risk of delivering a premature baby. In another study that sampled women residing close to an airport (exposed to loud airplane noise of more than 60 decibels) found that this constant exposure can result in low birth weight in babies.
What Is The Impact Of Loud Noises On A Fetus?
Multiple babies born with hearing damage or hearing impairment point to the fact that developing fetuses may not have protection against loud sounds. Fetuses respond to only low-frequency sounds in the initial stages but eventually, they also respond to higher frequency sounds during the gestation week.
While it is true that the maternal abdomen and uterus filter high-frequency and low-frequency sounds, it does not mean that it blocks the noises created by high frequencies and higher decibel levels. Studies by The Indian Academy Of Pediatrics have also indicated that there is high-frequency hearing loss in children with a history of exposure to noise more than 85 decibels during the gestation period.
In short, yes, loud noises can impact a fetus/ an unborn child, and hence, mothers should take the best measures possible to avoid being exposed to loud noise.
Can loud noises hurt my baby’s ears?
While some loud sounds and noises can cause a hearing problem even at the first exposure in babies, some may be harmed only over prolonged exposure. As per The Indian Academy of Pediatrics, here are some long-term severe effects of loud noise on a baby-
- Hearing loss
- Growth retardation
- Damage of cochlea
- Increased chances of a premature birth
- Birth defects
It is understood that mothers may not often have control over impulsive loud sounds like a gunshot, an explosion, or the noise of a firework, however, maximum protection should be sought and it should be tried to avoid such noises as much as possible. Loud noises can also, in fact, have severe long-term impacts on a baby like damage to the inner ear.
Noise Exposure During Pregnancy: What Is The Recommended Noise Levels During Pregnancy?
Though it is now established that loud noise can travel through the body of a pregnant woman and reach the baby to cause negative impacts, there are no officially prescribed safe sound pressure levels or safe sound decibels for pregnant women.
The Centers For Disease Control And Prevention does recommend avoiding continuous noise exposure to sounds louder than 115 decibels. Another nationwide prospective cohort study conducted on full-time working Swedish women had shown that occupational noise of more than 85 decibels causes a reduction in fetal growth. Hence, it is indicative of the fact that staying well below the 115 decibels should be the aim.
Final Thoughts: How To Avoid Being Exposed To Loud Noise During Pregnancy?
It is understood that avoiding loud noise may not be possible for most women in today’s world, especially those residing in urban areas. It may also not be easy to identify which sound is over the safe 85 decibels and harmful for you. However, it is necessary to take all measures possible to at least reduce the exposure to plus noise as a pregnant woman.
- Avoid being around loud household machines like washing machine/ dishwasher/ hairdryer/ mixer blender for long durations
- Try to consciously spend your free time in quiet rooms
- Reduce (if not curb) the usage of headphones with high volume
- Avoid visiting places that are obviously noisy like loud music festivals, rock concert, places of firework displays, and cinema halls
- If you work at a loud-noise organization by nature of the industry (for example, a factory), try speaking to those in charge and try figuring out a way around being temporarily less exposed to the noises
- When do babies start hearing in the womb?
Babies in a womb start developing their auditory systems by as early as three to six weeks of gestation and can fully start hearing 24 weeks of gestation.
2. How loud is too loud for a baby?
It is recommended to keep sound around a baby quieter than 60 decibels for a favorable hearing environment. For your reference to be able to understand 60 decibels better, a normal talk between two adults is usually at around 50 decibels, traffic is around 70 decibels whereas a flight or a jet takeoff is around 100 decibels.
3. What kind of sounds are unsafe for a fetus?
Some seemingly normal sounds, like the sounds generated from the workplace or household sources, can be marked unsafe for a developing baby or a fetus like-
- Traffic noises
- Machinery noise
- Household noise generated by the use of vacuum cleaners/ TV/ washing machine/ loud conversations
4. Can wearing earplugs protect a fetus from hearing disorders?
No, even despite the use of earplugs, sounds can reach the fetus and affect babies’ hearing.