Noise – Reproductive Health

Working in a noisy job when you’re pregnant can affect your hearing and increase your stress levels. When the noise level is very high it may increase your chances of having a baby with hearing problems. Learn more about noise at work and what you can do to reduce your exposure.

Why should I worry about noise?

  • Increased noise levels can cause stress. This can cause changes in a the body that can affect your developing baby.
  • Sound can travel through your body and reach your baby. Very loud noises may be able to damage your baby’s hearing.
  • Ear plugs or earmuffs do not protect your baby’s hearing. If you’re pregnant the only way to protect your baby’s hearing is to stay away from loud noise.

Many people work in noisy jobs who may not realize it, especially those who work with:

  • Machines
  • Guns
  • Loud music
  • Crowds of people
  • Sirens
  • Trucks
  • Airplanes

What is not known?

  • We don’t always know what causes hearing problems in babies. If you have a baby with hearing problems, it may not be possible to tell if your job caused this.
  • We don’t know for sure what levels of noise are safe during pregnancy. Experts have suggested guidelines based on what we know about how sounds travel.

What can I do to reduce my hazardous noise exposure?

  • Protect yourself from loud noise:
    • You should use hearing protection if your job exposes you to loud noise.
    • Too much noise can cause stress. Stress can cause changes in your body that can affect your developing baby.
    • For adults, noise that is 85 decibels (dBA) or more can be hazardous to your hearing. At this noise level, you would have to raise your voice for someone next to you to hear you. Most workplace noise levels are less than 95 dBA.
    • Ask your supervisor what the noise level is where you work.
  • Protect your developing baby from very loud noise:
    • Your hearing protection will not fully protect your developing baby’s ears from noise. Noise travels through the body to the womb. A baby’s ears develop by about the 20th week of pregnancy. Babies start responding to sounds around the 24th week.
    • Sounds from outside the mother’s body are lower inside the womb, but not completely silenced. Some experts think that pregnant women should not be routinely around noise louder than 115 dBA. This is roughly as loud as a chainsaw. Avoid areas that are louder than 115 dBA during pregnancy, even if you are wearing hearing protection.
  • Avoid very low frequency sounds, if possible. Noises that you can feel as a rumble or vibration are very low frequency sounds. These sounds travel through your body easily and can cause changes that could affect your developing baby.
  • Avoid sudden impact or impulse noise loud enough for you to need hearing protection or that startle you.
  • Do not lean up against or put your body in contact with a source of noise or vibration. Sounds are stronger to your developing baby when your belly is closer to the source of the noise.
  • Move as far away from the noise as possible.
  • Ask your employer if you can work in a quieter job during pregnancy.
  • Talk to your doctor about potential hazards at work. Make sure to mention that your job exposes you to loud noise.

Where can I get more information?