REPRODUCTIVE HEALTH AND THE WORKPLACE

Noise

Working in a noisy job when you’re pregnant can increase your stress levels. Very loud noise, like a jackhammer or rock concert, can increase your chances of having a baby with hearing problems. Here, you can learn more about noise at work and what you can do to reduce your exposure for a healthier pregnancy.

Why should I be concerned about noise?

  • Increased noise levels can cause stress. This can cause changes in a pregnant woman’s body that can affect her developing baby.
  • If you’re pregnant, sound can travel through your body and reach your baby. Although this sound will be muffled in the womb, very loud noises may still be able to damage your baby’s hearing.
  • You can wear hearing protectors (ear plugs) to protect your hearing, but if you’re pregnant the only way to protect your baby’s hearing is to get away from the noise.

Who works in noisy jobs?

Many women work in noisy jobs, especially women who work with machines, guns, loud music, crowds of people, sirens, trucks, or airplanes.

What is not known?

  • We don’t know what causes hearing problems in most babies. If you work in a noisy job and have a baby with hearing problems, we often can’t tell if the hearing problems were caused by your job or by something else.
  • We don’t know for sure what levels of noise are safe for a pregnant woman and her baby, although experts have suggested guidelines based on what we know about how sounds travels through the body.

What can I do to reduce my hazardous noise exposure?

  • Protect yourself from loud noise:
    • You should protect your own hearing by wearing hearing protection (like ear plugs) if you are exposed to loud noise.
    • For adults, loud noise is noise measured at 85 decibels (dB) or more. At this noise level, you would have to raise your voice to be heard by someone next to you.
    • While your hearing protection won’t protect your developing baby from noise, too much noise can cause you stress. Your stress can cause changes in your body that can affect your developing baby.
  • Protect your developing baby from very loud noise:
    • Your hearing protection will not fully protect your developing baby from noise. Noise travels through the body and to the womb. A baby’s ears are mostly developed by about the 20th week of pregnancy.
    • Sounds from outside the mother’s body are quieter inside the womb. Based on this, some experts think that pregnant women should not be exposed to noise louder than 115 decibels, on average, for a long period of time. This is about as loud as a foghorn, jackhammer, or a rock concert from the middle of a stadium.
    • Areas that are very loud (more than 115 decibels) should be avoided during pregnancy, even if you are wearing hearing protection.
  • Noises that you can feel as a rumble or vibration are very low frequency sounds. We do not know for sure if developing babies are affected by this noise, but these sounds travel through your body easily and can cause changes in your body that could affect your developing baby. Avoid this kind of noise if possible.
  • Sudden loud noises (impact or impulse noise) that are loud enough for you to need hearing protection should be avoided during pregnancy.
  • Sounds are stronger to your developing baby when your belly is closer to the source of the noise. Do not lean up against or put your body in contact with a source of noise. You should also avoid leaning against a source of vibration.
  • It can be hard to avoid noise at work. Move as far away from the noise as possible or ask your employer if you can work in a quieter job during pregnancy.
  • Talk to your doctor about your noise at work.

Where can I get more information?

Page last reviewed: April 20, 2017