When most adults think of white noise, relaxing is not exactly the word that comes to mind. But for a baby, white noise can be just the thing to help soothe them and get them to fall and stay asleep.

The reasons for this are quite simple. First, when babies are in the mother’s womb, most of what they hear resembles white noise. And secondly, white noise serves to drown out or muffle the various “interesting” noises that can keep a curious infant from going to sleep.

Parents have known for years that babies tend to fall asleep in the car, by the clothes dryer, or when the vacuum cleaner is running. The reason is because of the white noise these things produce. Of course, in some cases, the motion also helps, but white noise is a significant factor.

These days, parents have many options for creating white noise to help baby sleep. While the vacuum cleaner and clothes dryer are still options (and have the added benefit that housework gets done while helping baby sleep), there are now white noise machines and recordings.

Some of the machines and recordings available today even replicate the sounds of the womb, giving baby a familiar sound when it’s time to go to sleep. Others simply produce a hushed white noise. Either can be used to help your baby soothe herself to sleep.

One other option too many parents overlook is placing a fan in baby’s room. The fan should be pointing parallel to your baby’s crib and placed on a low or medium setting. Using a fan produces white noise, of course, but it has the added benefit of circulating the air in baby’s room, which has been shown to reduce the chances of SIDS.

When using white noise, some parents have found it helpful to start the noise (whether by fan, white noise machine, or whatever) a few minutes before laying baby down to sleep. Others find that turning the machine on after laying baby down becomes part of the sleep ritual and signals to baby that it’s time to go to sleep. Either is fine, and you should do whatever helps your baby sleep best.

When you use white noise to help your baby sleep, you will generally find that you are able to have conversations at normal tones without disturbing your baby’s sleep. Normal household noises are likewise less likely to wake your baby up.