Soothing baby the old-fashioned way

Parents today use 'white noise' machines to shush fussy babies, but there is a better way

News reports reveal parents are using machines that produce white noise to shush their fussy babies while in the stroller or during car rides, and to quiet them at bedtime.

Some machines plug in, others are battery powered. They also come as Apps or can be downloaded on to iPhones. Some  are concealed in the tummies of stuffed animals.

Noise machines produce a relaxing consistent sound that also blocks out background noises. Besides  whooshing white noise, parents have a choice of bird songs, waterfalls, rain and more.

Recommended decibel level is 50; many machines can  reach higher noise levels. Knowing how we often disregard health warnings, this possibility of too-high levels worries doctors. Steady noise at higher decibels leads to deafness. Parents admit they may leave the white noise on near their babies from 45 minutes to all night.

By comparison, normal conversation measures 60 to 65 decibels, city traffic inside a car 85, a Walkman 94, a jackhammer 95 measured at 50 feet, and a snowmobile 100 decibels.

My mother sang us to sleep. She had five of us to look after, plus holding up her end of farming – cooking, cleaning, laundry done on a scrub board, milking cows, feeding chickens, canning garden produce in season. Once dinner was over and the kitchen table was cleared, mom looked forward to nursing her youngest ahead of the child’s afternoon nap. It gave her an opportunity to take the weight off her feet before tackling chores that could keep her on the go until 7 p.m.

She would settle in the big rocking chair in her sunny bedroom off the kitchen.  The rocker, made by her carpenter father, had a padded seat and a high back. Its wide, flat armrests amply supported her arm with the baby’s weight. Heat from the McClary range along with any southern sunlight produced a soporific atmosphere for both mom and babe. While the baby nursed, mom crooned a four or five line song she had composed for her first child and never varied from then on. The words were even less exciting than Sheldon’s Soft Kitty.

The lullaby catalogued our  farm animals with their vocalizations: The cow says moo, moo, moo, and the rooster says doodle do, the dog says bow wow wow, and the kitty says meow, meow, meow. I no longer recall the roster of livestock, only that it was a short list.

Soon baby’s eyelids would droop – sometimes mom’s too – and the baby would be ready for  a couple hours of slumber in his homemade crib next to mom and dad’s bed.

Thirty minutes was usually sufficient for the baby to nurse and slump in a deep snooze. Our baby brother, though, was not so easily lulled. Even though he might look to be completely asleep, if mom made a mistake, paired the wrong sound to an animal, his eyelids would snap open and he would correct her. She had to croon minutes longer before he trusted her to stay on message.

When our girls were babies, I typed several hours every evening transcribing doctors’ exam notes and office correspondence from their Dictaphone recordings. Each afternoon when my husband left work, he drove to the doctors’ offices to collect their charts. Next morning he took the typed charts back to their offices.

While I typed, dad kept an eye on the girls. The older one, propped up against a cushion, shared the sofa with dad while he watched TV wrestling. The younger one  preferred her crib and succumbed to the clacking of my manual Royal. Its tapping keys were as effective as white noise. Even today, as a an adult, she tends to nod off at the sound of typing.


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