If you’re pregnant and thinking about going to a rock concert, or if you work in a loud environment, you may be wondering whether hearing loud noises during pregnancy will harm your growing baby. In this article, we’ll take a closer look at what your little one can actually hear inside your womb and whether or not they can be affected by noise exposure while in utero.
- Is An Unborn Baby Protected From Loud Sounds?
- How Can My Baby Be Harmed by Loud Sounds in the Womb?
- Can Loud Noises During Pregnancy Cause Miscarriage?
- Could Loud Noises During Pregnancy Harm Me?
- I Work in a Noisy Environment – Could That Harm My Baby?
- What Kind of Noises Could Be Harmful in Pregnancy?
- How Can I Reduce My Exposure to Loud Noises During Pregnancy?
- Is It Safe to Listen to Music in Pregnancy?
- The Sound of Silence
Is An Unborn Baby Protected From Loud Sounds?
Your unborn baby can’t hear anything inside the womb until you reach the fifth month of your pregnancy. Some time around 22 weeks, the cochlea of your little one’s inner ear finishes forming. That means your little one can hear the same things that you hear, although nowhere near at the same volume or level. It’s at this stage that you may notice any loud sounds could trigger your baby to react – they may make a startled jumping move in response to loud noises.
Your little one’s ears are adequately protected from most noises though thanks to the placenta, amniotic fluid and your own stomach muscles. This means your baby probably only hears softer, muffled sounds.
How Can My Baby Be Harmed by Loud Sounds in the Womb?
Although your baby has some protection from loud noises during pregnancy, the consensus is that prolonged exposure to loud noises can cause issues. There are some doubts about whether this is strictly true, but the evidence so far suggests it is.
There is certainly evidence that shows infants in the uterus can hear loud noises since they move more rapidly or make jumping movements if a startling and unexpected sound is heard. However, short exposure to loud noises is unlikely to cause any long-term harm to an unborn baby.
On the other hand, though, if there is long-term exposure to very noisy environments, it’s possible that there could be some longer-lasting consequences for your baby’s health.
Your Baby May Become Stressed
Studies on animals have shown that when a fetus is consistently exposed to loud sounds, they start to produce more corticotrophin and cortisol. When those hormone levels rise, this indicates increased levels of stress.
Your Baby’s Hearing May Be Affected
Loud sounds or music could affect an unborn baby’s ability to hear. Humans are able to cope with sounds up to 80dB. Sounds over this level could damage hearing. Jet planes, music concerts and working environments that contain heavy machinery can produce higher frequency sounds of 100dB or higher. Long-term exposure during pregnancy could, therefore, harm your little one’s hearing.
Fetal Abnormalities May Be Caused
Although it may seem extreme to suggest that an unborn baby could suffer from congenital abnormalities due to loud noises during pregnancy, it is technically possible. When expectant mothers are consistently exposed to loud sounds, they may develop stress or hypertension which can, in turn, directly affect fetal development.
Fetal Brain Structure May Be Affected
Some studies have been carried out on animals that established loud noises can change the brain structure of a fetus.
Lower Birth Weight
There have been studies carried out that have shown pregnant women living near airports and who are exposed regularly to loud aircraft noises over 60 decibels are more likely to have a low birth weight baby. Babies with a lower birth weight are more at risk from infections, and may also be more likely to suffer from respiratory, gastrointestinal, and neurological problems as well as having a greater risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
Can Loud Noises During Pregnancy Cause Miscarriage?
Studies have shown that, since consistent exposure to loud noises causes stress, this can reduce a pregnant woman’s lactogen levels.
HPL, or human placental lactogen, has a key role to play in helping your fetus to develop and thrive. It helps regulate metabolism so fats in foods are broken down more efficiently to be used as an energy source so glucose can be freed up for the growing baby.
If your HPL levels are too low, this can cause the placenta to fail to function properly and this can be very harmful for your baby. The placenta provides nutrition for your little one, and if it isn’t working correctly, your baby won’t get the nutrients he needs to develop and grow. This can eventually lead to miscarriage.
Low levels of lactogen in expectant mothers are also linked with pre-eclampsia. This condition can escalate into full-blown eclampsia which is very dangerous for both mother and baby, causing fits that can cause major health problems like kidney failure, cardiac arrest and brain hemorrhage and, in some cases, can even be fatal.
Even if eclampsia doesn’t develop, pre-eclampsia itself can cause health issues for both mother and baby since the only cure is delivery. Babies born to mothers with pre-eclampsia may be delivered earlier than expected and may, therefore, suffer from problems associated with prematurity.
Could Loud Noises During Pregnancy Harm Me?
When you’re pregnant, it’s advisable to steer clear of very loud noises since they can cause your body to produce more stress hormones which, in turn, can increase your heart rate. If this continues over an extended period, the result can be hypertension which is dangerous for your own health and well-being as well as that of your child.
If you are regularly exposed to loud noises at times when you should be asleep, you could also end up with disturbed sleep patterns. Getting enough uninterrupted sleep is vital for both your psychological and physiological health so if the situation continues for extended periods of time you could end up suffering both physically and mentally due to sleep deprivation.
Of course, it also goes without saying that if you’re exposed regularly to ongoing loud noises you could be damaging your own hearing, whether you’re pregnant or not.
I Work in a Noisy Environment – Could That Harm My Baby?
Your womb is full of amniotic fluid which acts as a physical barrier and prevents your baby’s middle ear and eardrum from doing what they’re supposed to do – amplify sounds. This means that even those sounds which seem loud to you aren’t deafening for your baby.
There is a caveat to this, though. This only holds true so long as the loud sounds don’t last for a long time and aren’t too excessive. Experts have expressed concerns about pregnant women and their unborn babies who are exposed repeatedly for prolonged periods to very loud noises. This can occur when women work long days in industrial workplaces.
Pregnant women are advised to avoid being exposed routinely to noises that are over 115dB (the similar level to a chainsaw in operation) since there are studies that show experiencing this level of noises regularly can result in hearing loss for your baby, particularly if the sounds are high frequency.
If you work in a job that involves working with industrial machinery, guns, airplanes, trucks, sirens, loud music or large crowds, you could be unintentionally exposing your unborn baby to potentially dangerous levels of noise on a regular basis.
What Kind of Noises Could Be Harmful in Pregnancy?
If you’re concerned about the kind of noises that you may be exposed to during pregnancy that could prove to be harmful to either you or your growing baby, this list should help you to become more aware of what to avoid:
- Gunshots at firing ranges
- Concerts involving loud music
- Jet planes
- Loud working environments where noise levels exceed 85dB regularly
- Traffic sounds
- Emergency sirens
- Jackhammers, chainsaws and other similar machinery
- Farm tractors
How Can I Reduce My Exposure to Loud Noises During Pregnancy?
If you’re concerned about the amount of exposure you may have to loud noises during your pregnancy, there are several steps you can take to reduce the potential threat.
Protecting Your Own Hearing
Although protecting your own ears won’t help to protect your fetus from loud noises, it’s important to remember that excess loud noise may cause stress for you and this causes bodily changes that may affect the developing baby.
For this reason, you should take measures to protect yourself from loud noises by:
- Using earplugs or ear defenders to protect your hearing when exposed to loud noises of 85dB or higher. If you need to raise your voice in order to make yourself heard to the person sitting next to you, you should be taking measures to protect your ears.
- Whenever possible, move as far away as possible from sources of excessive noise.
- Asking your manager or supervisor to inform you about the noise levels in your workplace and, if they are over 85dB, ask if you can be moved to a quieter location for the duration of your pregnancy.
Protecting Your Baby’s Ears
Sounds travel through your body to your uterus where your baby will begin hearing and responding to sound during the fifth month of your pregnancy.
If you can feel a noise such as a vibration or rumble, this indicates a low-frequency sound. It isn’t yet known for certain whether a developing baby can be affected by this type of noise, however it’s known these sounds can travel easily through the body, causing bodily changes that could impact on the fetus. For this reason, you should try to avoid low-frequency noises as much as possible.
Noises are stronger to developing babies if your stomach is near the noise source. You should, therefore, avoid leaning against or putting your body in close contact with any noise source or source of vibrations.
If you work in a noisy environment, you should speak with your doctor and tell them about the possible sound hazards that you are surrounded by. You may need a sick note to excuse you from your usual type of work throughout your pregnancy.
Is It Safe to Listen to Music in Pregnancy?
It’s no wonder that many pregnant women wonder whether it’s safe to listen to music during pregnancy. After all, music can have a huge impact on your mood and well-being.
The good news is that it’s perfectly fine to listen to all your favorite tunes while you’re expecting so long as you keep the volume to sensible levels. Soft music can actually have positive benefits for both mothers and unborn babies. We know how hard it can be to have insomnia during your pregnancy, and music can help you relax.
As long as you play music at 70dB or lower, this can make you feel calmer and, in turn, help reduce stress levels in the fetus too. This applies to all types of music, so you needn’t steer clear of your rock classics as long as you don’t crank up the volume too high!
The Sound of Silence
At the present time, there are still a number of studies being carried out to determine the exact risks to a growing fetus from loud noises during pregnancy. You can rest assured though that most loud sounds won’t cause you or your baby any harm at all as long as they are short in duration. However, if you have any concerns, steering clear of excess noise is always wise until after the birth.
As your baby develops, avoid going to loud concerts or the firing range and, if you work in a noisy occupation, you should speak to your supervisor or manager about making accommodations for you for the duration of your pregnancy.
If you have any other worries about your baby and noise exposure in the womb don’t hesitate to speak to your physician to ask their professional advice.