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Parental Advisory: Shhhhh…

We have a four-month-old and he wakes up so easily whenever there’s the slightest noise. I’ve put rugs on the floor outside his door, but still he wakes up if we shut a door down the hall. My husband and I walk on tip-toes and strain to hear Jon Stewart on low volume every night. We feel like prisoners. Is this a phase? What can we do? – Whisper to a Scream

Dear Whisper,

Not only is it difficult to maintain a marital vow of silence, it’s not necessary. The solution to your problem can be simply achieved. Two words: white noise.

A baby who startles awake easily at the drop of a hat (or the flush of a toilet, or the blowing of a nose on the other side of the street) will likely benefit from a dull drone blocking out random noise bursts. You can try a fan, static on the TV or radio, or a machine designed specifically for this purpose. Many white noise machines come with a few settings; rain forest, crickets, waves. The most continuous noise – maybe a “waterfall” or even simply “white noise” – will probably work best for the easy startler. But you can play around and see which seems the most soothing. The drawback to white noise is that your baby may become so accustomed to it he will have a hard time sleeping in any other acoustical environment. So if you go out of town, you’ll have to pack the machine. But the portable whir can actually be soothing and familiar when everything else is different.

There’s another theory that says babies should actually be trained to learn to deal with noise so they don’t become dependent on silence in order to sleep. This method is especially popular with families of multiple kids, for whom silence is a less accessible option. Some swear by letting their kids fall asleep to the sound of familial hustle and bustle, or full-on house parties. You could certainly try this if you’re up for it. Maybe the Jon Stewart laugh track will lull your baby to sleep. But it’s not clear that all babies can be taught how to sleep through cacophony, and this will almost certainly result in more wakeful nights in the short term.

As for the “phase” part of your question: Babies sleep in very short cycles, lasting about forty minutes. This means that every forty minutes or so your son comes up into light sleep, giving him many opportunities throughout the night to be startled by noises. As he grows, the sleep cycles will lengthen, creating fewer moments for rattling radiators to wreak havoc. And he could just grow out of it. One of us has a kid who was ridiculously on edge as an infant, and he’ll sleep through anything now. But some kids (and adults for that matter) are just light sleepers. And they learn to live with it.

But don’t worry about that now! You never know. You have a tiny baby who is waking up easily. Happens all the time. Your best bet (or at least the easiest) is to crank up the volume in your baby’s room, so you can do the same in yours.

Have a question? Email beingpregnant@babble.com

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