As you get closer and closer to your due date, your days of easy date nights are numbered. So, if you're planning to catch the latest epic film, scary movie, or franchise marathon, you may find yourself asking, are movie theaters too loud for pregnant women?
Since babies can hear music in utero when a mother puts headphones on their belly, it might make you wonder just how sensitive baby’s in-womb hearing really is. And if you’ve experienced any kind of IMAX blockbuster, you know they are decidedly un-stingy on the speakers. Since you’d likely want to use ear protection if you’re taking a newborn to the movies, as experts say the movie theaters are too loud for their new little ears, how different is it if the baby is still inside of you?
Then there is the pregnant person themself to consider. Growing a human inside of you means dealing with all kinds of weird pregnancy symptoms and side effects. A fairly common contender is ringing ears, which doesn’t pair well with loud movie theaters. An even more common symptom is stress, and according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), loud noises can increase stress during pregnancy — something you definitely don’t need more of.
So, are movie theaters too loud for pregnant women and pregnant people? It’s yet another thing to take under consideration during pregnancy. That’s why Romper reached out to OB-GYNs to get the official answer.
How loud noises affect pregnant people
"Pregnant women are not particularly more sensitive to sound," Dr. Melissa R. Peskin-Stolze, M.D., tells Romper, so there aren't any special precautions a parent-to-be should make in terms of damaging their own hearing. When it comes to sound, Dr. Michele Cherry, D.O., tells Romper that general noise restrictions for pregnant people are the same as anyone else because "excessive loud noise for prolonged periods could cause hearing loss in adults." These restrictions are more focused on exposure to loud noises for extended periods of time (like during a work day [or] week) rather than the stage of life a person is in.
However, if loud noises tend to cause you stress, as they often do for pregnant people, a stressed expectant mom can result in stress on the baby. “When a pregnant person is stressed, there are changes that occur within her body that can affect the developing baby, such as increases in blood pressure, heart rate and cortisol,” Dr. Barbara McLaren, board-certified OB-GYN and co-founder of Kushae feminine care brand, tells Romper.
Outside of movie theaters, there are some precautions pregnant people should take when it comes to sound exposure. Cherry says she doesn't "recommend pregnant women go to very loud venues [like a] concert, where they are going to be near speakers or [a] stage."
How loud noises affect a fetus in the womb
A pregnant person isn't only looking after themself, but they also have to consider their baby's health in everyday situations. McLaren says that prolonged and repeated exposure to loud noises can affect both the mother’s and the baby’s hearing. “I advise my patients to avoid very loud noises and assess the potential noise environment on a case-by-case basis,” she says. “If you're planning an activity, just be mindful of the level of noise that will be around you.”
Peskin-Stolze makes the same recommendations for loud environments like concerts or festivals. She says there is "limited consensus on the effect of noise exposure on birth weight and length of gestation" (some studies show a correlation between the two, others don't) and that more research is needed.
"[Fetal] auditory pathways come to maturity at about 24 weeks [gestation]," says Cherry, which means an unborn baby can be just as sensitive to loud noises as anyone else. But, while you can put some ear plugs in, your baby can't. As Cherry puts it, "there is no method to shield a fetus from environmental noise."
Even though you can't block out sound for your growing baby, movie theaters probably don't pose a risk. Peskin-Stolze explains that "sitting in a movie theater for two to three hours ... is within the recommended time limitations for exposure to loud sounds, and short exposure like this should also not affect the fetal hearing."
Since studies are inconclusive, it's better for moms to err on the side of caution when it comes to noise exposure. If you're going to a concert or loud event, Peskin-Stolze recommends utilizing tools like the health app on the iPhone, which "has an entire section. .. devoted to hearing health [and] environmental noise exposure" or relying on "the Apple Watch [to] notify you when sounds are greater than 80dB."
McLaren suggests pregnant people avoid noises louder than 115 decibels, “which is equivalent to the sound of a chainsaw, as well as very low-frequency sounds that you can feel as a rumble or vibration.” As long as the sound at the theater is below this range, McLaren says going to the movies is generally safe for pregnant people. “Maybe opt for a comedy over an action or combat movie with constant booms and vibrations,” she adds.
While there are plenty of ways to take precautions and be aware of the noise levels around you, feel free to relax during your movie date because it's unlikely that the volume will exceed a safe threshold. Enjoy it now, because the sounds of an epic film will seem like a whisper once you're introduced to the ear-piercing scream of a hungry infant.
Michele Cherry, D.O., OB-GYN at Marshall Medical Center
Melissa R. Peskin-Stolze, M.D., Generalist OB-GYN and Assistant Professor of Obstetrics & Gynecology and Women's Health at Montefiore Health System and Albert Einstein College of Medicine
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