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We're thinking of moving to a new apartment in New York. It's next to a big construction site, where there will be drilling for another few months.

Has anyone read any research on safe levels / exposures to construction noise and what to do to minimize damage?

Are noise cancellation headphones safe if worn for longer periods of time?

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    Headphones for you, or for the infant? I don't think I would consider headphones for an infant (strangulation risk). – Joe Sep 20 '16 at 1:30
  • It is amazing what you can get used to. I lived in a house by a train track spur to a company. Sundays were weird because the day was quite since the company was closed on Sundays and there was no train activity at all. – MaxW Sep 22 '16 at 22:34
  • I don't know about volumes levels/safety (and I really can't imagine putting headphones on a newborn, they are so tiny - plus you want them to get exposure to the language around them) but having had a 14 month old in a house with building work going on, it drove me crazy how he'd fall asleep for a nap and then five minutes later get woken up when drilling started. It meant he was constantly tired and grumpy! If the drilling is outside, it should be quieter I would imagine though? – jvvw Oct 6 '16 at 12:06
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My daughter was born while there was extensive construction in our area, we were the first house completed. It was no problem. As a matter of fact, my daughter is a sound sleeper now and was very quick to sleep through the night. I understand the fears of damaging little ears, but the sound levels you experience in your home are likely not going to be detrimental.

In New York City, construction can only be performed on weekdays between 7am and 6pm. NYC also sets limits to the noise generated from construction sites. You can research the law. This is a summary of the law.

The caps are around 45 decibels for most implements and a maximum volume (meaning when BIG things happen, like dumping a truck or drilling) is 80 decibels at 30 feet. Depending on the actual distance to your walls and the material, it shouldn't damage any ears.

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  • Perhaps another issue is the distraction of the noise, baby being woken. I wonder if some kind of a white noise maker to lessen the impact of the construction noise could be useful. – Tim Oct 6 '16 at 19:41
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Will the baby be born after you move?

Think of the following: the noise to which a fetus/unborn baby is exposed to constantly while in the mother's belly is is far more than you can imagine. Accoring to this source (found on a quick research),

"ambient sound a baby hears in the womb - mainly blood running through your blood vessels and the movement of your stomach and intestines - actually reaches the level of about 90 decibels (about the level of background noise in an apartment next to an elevated train). While his developing ears can take those internal noise levels, exposure to very loud external noises can endanger an unborn baby's hearing."

This study aiming at measuring intrauterine sound levels just before and during birth states the following in the abstract:

We placed an electrically isolated microphone in the uterus of nine term gravid volunteers after amniorrhexis. Baseline levels of intrauterine sound were 72 to 88 db. Transabdominal vibroacoustic stimulation with an artificial larynx produced peak mixed frequency sound levels of 91 to 111 db.

This (non-scientific) website summarizes:

Instead of the womb being the quiet place scientists once assumed, it is actually awash in sounds, particularly the whooshing of your blood and digestive system, the thumping of your heart and your voice, which sounds louder than it would transmitted through the air since it reverberates through the bones and fluids in your body.

Considering therefore the sound level in the womb, the newborn is already used to noises, it is often not recommended to tiptoe around your newborn -- they are already used to noise from the womb, and you would only be making life harder for yourself.

That being said, I actually went through exactly what you describe to be your plan. My daughter was born in November, and starting with February the following year the inner garden and the underground garage of our apartment building underwent major renovation, lasting 10 full months. It was never a problem for the baby! The only negative reactions to noise were when some neighbour was drilling into their walls (that still happens, she's 2.5 y.o. now). Never to the noise outside. I, on the other hand, had a hard time dealing with it and appreciated the noise-free weekends. During the week I tried to hang to every opportunity to leave the house with the baby in order to get away from it, which was both good (meeting other friends with babies, offering my baby different stimuli, etc), and bad (I was too tired some days but still felt like I need to escape the drilling, or I couldn't rest properly when the baby was sleeping). I was however careful to cover her ears as well as I could when walking by the construction site if at that moment the noise was considerably loud.

To answer your question in short: there is very likely no damage from outside drilling/construction site noises for infants. Annoying to adults, yes, but not damaging to anyone

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  • hi iulia and thanks for this info. The source doesn't look... as scientific as I would feel comfortable with. Is it possible to find that number elsewhere? The reason I ask is that neonatal ICUs are limited to 45 dB due to higher levels causing some damage (not extensive, but some) to little ones' hearing. 90 dB sounds very high. Thanks! – anongoodnurse May 1 '19 at 2:34
  • @anongoodnurse Thank you, I added a two other sources now . – iulia May 1 '19 at 5:20
  • Wow! Thanks. I would have had a hard time believing it, but I'm convinced now. Great answer! – anongoodnurse May 1 '19 at 5:45
  • A friend of mine at University was born during the Turkish invasion of Northern Cyprus, which they happily slept through, but didn't adapt well to sleeping without background gunfire for a few weeks after that was over. – Dannie May 2 '19 at 12:04

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