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Why Babies Need Quiet

Know how tough it is to focus in a loud room? It's harder for your baby. A new study suggests a noisy environment may even interfere with language development. Even in a mildly noisy room  -- a fast-food restaurant, a living room with the TV always on  -- a baby may have trouble distinguishing between voices.

Especially in the first 6 months, but up to a year, babies have trouble differentiating between foreground sounds (like your saying her name) and background noise (radios, kids playing, adults talking). "Conversation directed at the child may simply go unrecognized," says study author Rochelle Newman, Ph.D., a cognitive psychologist at the University of Maryland in College Park. Quiet periods of time each day may be beneficial to a baby's language acquisition, she says, especially in the first year of life. To keep the decibels in check:

• Turn off the radio and television when you're reading to or playing with your baby.

• An hour or so every day, eliminate the subtle noises that don't bother you but could distract your baby, like her brother playing Game Boy in the same room. When you're talking to her, her ears should be on you.

• If your infant's in daycare, do a sound check: Is there constant background noise from radios, TV, telephones? Ask the staff what they can do to lower the volume  -- or find a center that's less noisy or includes quiet times.

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