Is Silence Golden in the NICU?

In the NICU was it quiet or noisy? Were your babies in private rooms or not? Keep reading to see what research is showing about the amount of noise beneficial.  Does this apply at home also?

In the NICU, maybe not all silence is golden. A study published in The Journal of Pediatrics provides new insight on the pros and cons of private neonatal ICU (NICU) rooms. “Current practice tells us that we should minimize the amount of stimulation to the baby, so you would think that babies in private rooms would do better – but we found the contrary,” said the study’s first author, Bobbi Pineda, PhD, of Washington University.

The observational study used comprehensive neurobehavioral testing and brain imaging with MRI. At discharge, preterm infants in NICU private rooms tended to show abnormalities in the structure of the brain’s language area compared to those cared for in open wards. And at age two, those who had been hospitalized in private rooms showed poorer language skills.

Even controlling for multiple contributing factors, the association persisted, raising questions about sensory exposure and suggesting the need for more research on optimal NICU environments.    Courtesy of NPIHC


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4 comments to Is Silence Golden in the NICU?

  • Very intriguing finding. Historically, hospital care of the premie began with what was described as “sensory deprivation” then evolved to “sensory stimulation” with neither having great results. We have since moved to neurobehaviorally sensitive care in which the hallmark is to provide sensory stimulation within the tolerance of each individual baby. It is essential for a baby (in utero or out) to hear human speech from about 28 or 30 weeks on, for normal speech development. Perhaps the next question that should be researched, is to what degree the sensory environment was individualized to baby’s needs. Unfortunately, sometimes a good idea is applied broadly and that was never the intent. Also, I would hope that this does not instigate a pendulum swing to the crazy noisy open nurseries of the past.

  • Shirley Baker

    After 4 days in a fairly quiet NICU, my identical triplets (born at 32 weeks) were transferred to a regular nursery (one small, open room staffed by 2 nurses) for another 26 days. It definitely was NOT quiet! Other babies were crying, parents were coming and going, nurses had conversations, stocked the shelves, played music, and talked and sang to the babies, etc. My boys are now 11 and have no language or other delays.

  • Maria Panian

    Both of my daughters were preemies. My eldest was a 30 weeker. She was in the NICU for 41 days, most of time in a private room. She was only in the open nursery for a few days before she came home. She’s now 7 years old and has been in speech therapy for the past several years. While I can usually understand what she’s saying, “outsiders” still have a hard time. My younger daughter was a 34 weeker and is currently 6 months old. She seems to be on target, but I will be monitoring her closely. She was in the NICU for 2 weeks. She was out of the private and into the open nursery within a few days.

  • Kelli Lamb

    Wow, this is EXACTLY right on for us! Two of our triplets roomed together and we had lots of family in and out and lots of noise and stimulation because our 3year old son also played in the room. The third triplet was not doing as well at birth and roomed alone in a very dark very silent room. We still cared for him the same and kangaroo’d him as much, but it was quiet. At four years old, he has just finished his first full year of speech and language.

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