Help me deal with a baby noisy neighbour.
May 2, 2008 12:18 PM   Subscribe

Help me deal with a noisy neighbour. Difficulty: Neighbour is one month old.

I live in mid-terrace house. (In the UK, if it matters.) Recently one neighbour acquired a young baby, and this baby likes to scream. A lot. Especially at night.

The baby sleeps in a room which is on the other side of a wall to my bed, and their parents don't seem too interested in (or perhaps they're simply unable) stopping it from screaming.

It is interrupting my sleep and even during the day the sound of a screaming baby is annoying, and stressful.

What should I do? Go next door and tell them? Even if I did, what could they do? I feel somewhat trapped!
posted by Mwongozi to Human Relations (33 answers total)
Um, you can't stop a one month old from crying. It's what they do.
posted by WinnipegDragon at 12:27 PM on May 2, 2008

Doubt the parents can do much at this stage - suggest you move the bed or buy some earplugs - perhaps noise canceling headphones. Or consider moving.
posted by laukf at 12:27 PM on May 2, 2008

There's a good chance the parents are unaware you can hear the baby. It won't hurt to [kindly] let them know. They may be easily able to recitfy the situation for you once they know about it.
posted by tickettrader at 12:31 PM on May 2, 2008

Can you put soundproofing material on that wall and move your bed to the opposite side of the room? I am only suggesting this AFTER you speak with the parents, of course, and they have done nothing about it (like move the baby's crib to a different area).
posted by Unicorn on the cob at 12:32 PM on May 2, 2008

Hearing someone else's baby cry is annoying as hell, and can make you go crazy. I sympathize....I don't know how you can stand it. Is the baby crying for minutes or hours on end, or do the parents come and attend to it right away? Because if they come and try to feed it/hold it/change it right away when it cries, there's really nothing you can do except change where you sleep, or wear earplugs. But if they're letting it cry incessantly, you should let them know that the constant and lengthy crying is affecting your sleep. Don't be surprised if they're not too terribly sympathetic, since they're probably dealing with sleep deprivation themselves. But they may be more quick to respond if they know you can hear, and that it's disrupting your life.
posted by iconomy at 12:35 PM on May 2, 2008 [1 favorite]

Believe me, they probably know.

Things do change quickly at that stage though - the sleep patterns at 1m are different from 3m and far different from 6m. Since there's not much you can do on that front perhaps in the short term you could do some type of heavy fabric wall hanging over the shared wall to muffle the sound? Get a white noise machine or keep a radio on static while you sleep?
posted by true at 12:37 PM on May 2, 2008

Best answer: It's what babies do. The parents are likely freaked out enough by the whole thing and your complaint won't really help matters. You could make a friendly comment about the new baby, to let them know (kindly) that you can hear (i.e. "Congratulations on your new baby, how are things going? I hear the baby sometimes and know that s/he is keeping you guys busy.") You'd have to be really careful with the content and delivery and it's probably not worth it. If they've ever heard you, they know you can hear them.

I suggest finding methods to mask the noise. White noise machines, headphones, etc. A caveat: if you think the baby is being neglected by its parents, then a different answer is in order. The good news is that it won't last forever.

It is interrupting my sleep and even during the day the sound of a screaming baby is annoying, and stressful.
Can you imagine what it's like for them, without the wall in between and seemingly unable to stop it? Yikes.

posted by ml98tu at 12:44 PM on May 2, 2008 [8 favorites]

I had this exact situation. I live in an apartment, and the baby who sleeps across the wall from me screamed and screamed for hours on end. The good news is that it turned out to be colic, and the baby got over it in a month or so. In the meantime, your best bet is probably earplugs.
posted by craichead at 12:58 PM on May 2, 2008

When our colicky baby was one month old, she screamed so loud that my across-the-street neighbor came over one day to ask if there was anything she could do to help.

I'm so sorry you have to go through this, but unfortunately there really isn't anything that either baby or parents can do. I don't think it would hurt for you to let them know, subtly, that you're aware of (and therefore affected by) their rough transition to parenthood.
posted by Sweetie Darling at 1:04 PM on May 2, 2008

AWESOME question. Here's how you deal with it.

(figure out when to meet neighbors 'by accident' outside their apt).

YOU: Hi neighbors, how's the sleep going?
THem: blah blah...barely any!
You: Say...I learned a trick from my sister who recently had a baby!
Them: Oh?
You: THe baby used to cry like crazy at night and during the day...after became a LOT happier.
Them: Tell us...oh please tell us!

Learn how to do that. I was amazed at HOW MANY babies stop crying after a good swaddle. DONT DO IT TOO TIGHT. Tight enough so that the baby doesnt have arms flailing all around, but loose enough so that you're not restricting it more than that. Firm yet comfortable.

Babies also cry when they are hungry.,..are these rents feeding the poor kid at night? If they are, swaddle is the way to go...otherwise, what the F*** feed the baby! It needs a good feeding every 3 -4 hours.

It may be that the parents are new parents and they JUST DONT KNOW. Be nice to them...they might just be dumb.

Good luck. Message me if u have any specific questions from what the parents say.
posted by hal_c_on at 1:07 PM on May 2, 2008 [2 favorites]

Sorry you have to deal with this. I'm sure the memories will fade to black when you get to know the little guy/gal over the next few years.

As for the sleeping, have you tried earplugs?
posted by stuboo at 1:17 PM on May 2, 2008

seconding hal_c_on and getting a white noise machine. Swaddling is a miracle. White noise machines are miracles.
posted by pomegranate at 1:28 PM on May 2, 2008

I'm sorry you're going through this. The baby may have colic. I know twice over what that's like.

If, at times, the parents are not rushing to attend the baby, it may be that they need a few minutes to gather their own composure so that they don't do something like shake the baby. Some people do not have the coping skills. Or it could be that the parent(s) have post-partum depression. Or that nothing will console the baby -- not rocking, not the dishwasher noise, not singing, nursing, nothing. The parents may also be unaware that newborn babies need to nurse every couple of hours, sometimes even more. Or the baby may be having trouble latching or there may be issues with breastfeeding. Or the baby may be allergic to formula. One of my children actually had worse colic whenever I ate cruciferous veggies or legumes. There are a million reasons for babies to cry. And, while you might think the parents are doing nothing, they may actually be working very hard at it. They may be doing everything right and nothing is working. Or they may just be stepping back to keep from losing it themselves. They are probably incredibly sleep deprived.

This should pass. The next two weeks will probably be the hardest. After that, things should improve -- probably by 3 months. Get some earplugs. Move your bed. Play music. Run the fan. Put the dishwasher or other white noise on. Do what you can. It will get better. If you are feeling especially generous, you could leave a small gift for the baby's parents (white noise CD?) -- sometimes, the feeling that they are not alone may be enough to calm the parents and thus the baby. I wouldn't bring up the crying. They know. And there isn't anything they can really do about it. It will get better.
posted by acoutu at 1:32 PM on May 2, 2008 [1 favorite]

As the mom of a colicky baby, I can say that it's one of the most nerve-wracking, awful, helpless situations you can imagine. I could hear my daughter scream all the time - even when she wasn't. It is a seriously bad place to be in. Swaddling doesn't help; football holds don't help; feeding and fresh diapers don't help; nothing helps. You just have no idea what it's like when you have a baby who is screaming in pain and you can't fix it unless you've been through it. We ended up going out and sitting in the car with her several times because the sound insulation was better in there than it was in a house with walls.

So, yeah - that new mom is probably feeling pretty low. Have you tried earplugs for yourself? My husband and I would have to wear them while we held our daughter, who would scream for several hours on end.

Count your blessings that you can take a break and leave the house with the screaming baby in it once in a while. Maybe reaching out to that mom and offering a meal or some nicety?

Remember that she might not necessarily be a bad mother. She may just be dealing with colic, which is hell on earth.
posted by Addlepated at 1:33 PM on May 2, 2008 [2 favorites]

Or noise cancelling headphones. They really work, espcially the Bose headphones.

Everyone here is so nice. I would have been over there telling them off the first night!
posted by WaterSprite at 1:38 PM on May 2, 2008

Indeed, the crying will stop. Best to project yourself forward a couple of years from now.
The late night wailing is a distant memory.
You're sleeping through the night.
And the parents are happier, better rested, and fully capable of handling your request for a little quiet after a full hour listening to the toddler slam a toy truck against the wall repeatedly while singing the Bob the Builder theme song over and over...and over...and over.
posted by prinado at 1:39 PM on May 2, 2008

Um, you can't stop a one month old from crying. It's what they do.

While I don't agree with this statement (the best way to stop a baby from crying at night is co-sleeping combined with breastfeeding, a practice that is for some reason shunned in Western countries), you could always politely mention that you can hear the baby, that you understand it is a tough time, but see if they can help find a solution.
posted by KokuRyu at 2:19 PM on May 2, 2008

Respectfuly, KokuRyu, even some co-sleeping, breastfeeding babies cry a lot. Maybe its just what western babies do.

Swaddle blanket as a nice gift for them and the kid, ear-plugs, white noise and scotch for you. A conversation that turns to swaddling or white noice shushing topics is ok, neighborly "HAVE YOU THOUGHT ABOUT CO-SLEEPING BECAUSE I CAN HEAR THAT KID ALL THE TIME" kind of unsolicited advice is not.

Good luck.
posted by dirtdirt at 2:48 PM on May 2, 2008 [2 favorites]

Had this kind of situation, except with a dog of the small, yappy variety. I tried noise canceling headphones, and didn't have any luck with them; they seem to work well enough with ambient noise, but high frequency sounds (e.g., dog barking, baby crying) go right through. Ended up going with the earplugs.
posted by logicpunk at 2:52 PM on May 2, 2008

OK, devil's advocate here. You didn't have that baby, and you're paying your rent for your apartment/mortgage for your house, and you shouldn't have to suffer for their actions. If your neighbors are doing something that prevents you from getting a good night's sleep in your own home, then it's on THEM to fix it.

Are you a homeowner, or is there a landlord? If there's a landlord, try involving him/her as a facilitator of the request. If you're the owner, is there a homeowners association or some equivalent? Some governing body of the neighborhood that establishes rules about things like leaving your garbage cans out, cutting your grass, and making excessive noise? (Those are all over the place here in the U.S.)

Yes, it totally and completely sucks for them that they have a baby that cries for hours on end. Yes, you should have sympathy for them on that point. But that's not your problem. That was the risk they took when they had that baby. Your problem is that *their* behavior in causing you discomfort in your very own home, and that's not acceptable. It's their responsibility to fix it. Move the baby's crib. Move the baby's room. Put white noise in with the baby. Swaddle it. Take it to the doctor. Whatever. They don't have the right to violate your peace in your own house.

Worst case scenario: put your stereo speakers right against the wall and fight back. You might not have to do that more than once.
posted by mccxxiii at 3:19 PM on May 2, 2008 [3 favorites]

I have to agree with mccxiii here...while I feel bad for them, you should not have to suffer due to their decision to have a kid, especially if you are paying rent like everybody else.

If you get your landlord or someone involved, you can request that they not name you specifically and just cite general noise complaints from the building. They might guess its you ratting on them, but if asked, you can just say that you didn't complain but that you have been having some issues sleeping because of it and maybe offer a few suggestions on how to help (sound proof their walls, etc.)

Earplugs are a good start if you're passive aggressive and perhaps the speaker idea would work too. Although with that one I wouldn't blast anything too obnoxious...just music to listen to while going to sleep (perhaps a little louder than normal to drown out the baby) and if they complain you can say you've had to resort to it due to the crying.
posted by Elminster24 at 4:34 PM on May 2, 2008

I can speak as a father of a newborn that there is not much that can be done with a crying baby. Some babies quiet right up with food or when picked up, some babies cry for hours and nothing will calm them, its the luck of the draw and there is likely nothing the parents can do about it. What they did last night, might not work tonight, they change so fast.

I can tell you those parents are likely stressed out of their minds, there is no real way to describe the mental, emotional, physical changes that take place when you become a new parent, so any complaints you may have will be secondary to the health and well being of child whose life they are now responsible for (and overwhelmed with providing).

Your best bet as ml98tu mentioned is take whatever actions you can within your own environment to mitigate the sound.

The attitude that mccxxiii expresses will get you nowhere. While his/her argument may have technical merit, you will be perceived as an unsympathetic child hater, further, your wants and needs will always fall well below the wants and needs of the child, both from the parents standpoint and probably a legal standpoint as well (although IANAL).

Be a better neighbor and offer sympathy and support.
posted by p8r1ck at 5:41 PM on May 2, 2008 [1 favorite]

IANAL, but, in many countries, a baby has the right to cry, under provisions for human rights. Here in Canada, children are allowed to make a reasonable amount of noise and a crying baby cannot be discriminated against -- nor can the family. The parents would be expected to take reasonable steps, but that usually has more to do with toddlers throwing things on the floor or smashing things around. Crying babies, tantruming toddlers, frustrated preschoolers -- they're allowed to be. I believe that, in the US, this falls under the Fair Housing Act.
posted by acoutu at 5:51 PM on May 2, 2008

The new parents hear the crying even better than you do, and their hearts break because they've tried every trick and fable they've ever heard and the crying just! won't! stop! If you go to them talking about your problems, you probably won't get much sympathy.

hal_c_on recommends swaddling. My daughter loved to be swaddled --- tie her up and she'd sleep soundly for a few hours. My son didn't seem to notice it. Then again, she always fussed more than he does. Every baby has its own opinions about these things.

One observation: babies are very good at sensing when their parents are upset, and it bothers them. This cycle has ugly feedback. Consider offering help. "You sound busy. Here is a big delicious casserole you can nosh on for a couple of days."

It'll get quieter and more entertaining.
posted by fantabulous timewaster at 6:11 PM on May 2, 2008 [1 favorite]

"further, your wants and needs will always fall well below the wants and needs of the child"

Child-hater or not, Mwongozi's right to enjoy peace in his own home most certainly do not fall well below the "rights" of his neighbors to violate that peace.
posted by mccxxiii at 7:58 PM on May 2, 2008

There will almost certainly be a community mediation service covering your area from whom you'll be able to get expert (and free) assistance if you decide you want to talk to your neighbours about this. ... and you should do that, because the chances are good that they want to talk to you about it every bit as much as you want to talk to them, but are equally unsure how to broach the subject.

Community mediation is a voluntary service offered across most of the UK, and noise is one of the big things that community mediators deal with. They are experts at getting neighbours together in a threat and blame free environment to discuss ways of working problems out constructively. Maybe there isn't an instant solution to this and you'll agree to live with it for a while. Or maybe there is something simple that could be done in the short term. Who knows? You'll only find out by talking about it, and even if it doesn't solve the problem, you've made friends with your neighbours and hopefully opened some channels so you can approach each other on other matters later if you need to.

Mediation may seem like overkill for something like this, but if you don't feel comfortable approaching your neighbours yourself, it's really not. They will be delighted to help, but you'll stay in control. They will talk to you first, on your own, and won't approach your neighbours or do anything else without your say so.

There is a service in Oxford that may be the nearest to you (scroll about half way down the page). Or try your local library or citizens advice office for your local service.

(Disclosure: I am a community mediator, but not in your area.)
posted by genesta at 12:45 AM on May 3, 2008

Mwongozi, I should have added, feel free to contact me direct if you'd like more info about community mediation - email address in profile. (I'm away for the weekend but will reply next week.)
posted by genesta at 1:05 AM on May 3, 2008

I am honestly curious what outcome could possibly be mediated here. I love mediation, but have no idea what the compromise would be with regard to a crying baby.

Let us assume that the baby is not being left to cry it out at one month, because this is well below the recommended sleep training threshold even for hard core CIO advocates. Any need that can be met is presumably being met - if the baby is hungry, it is being fed; if it is lonely, it is being rocked; if it is wet, it is being changed. It is safe to assume that, subjected to even more noise than Mwongozi, the parents are doing everything they can to stop the crying.

And yet the noise continues. Some babies simply cry a lot. This is not like dealing with blasting music or barking dogs. Babies cannot be turned down (if only) and they cannot be zapped, trained or rehomed under a court order.

In short, there is very little that Mwongozi can do to effect the noise occurring next door. The only thing that can be done is to try to control his or her own environment. That may mean a white noise machine, earplugs, and/or temporary noise blocking foam pads fixed to the party wall.
posted by DarlingBri at 3:19 AM on May 3, 2008

mccxxiii — I feel pretty safe in assuming that you haven't had a child, but please correct me if I am wrong.

Your position fails to acknowledge the obvious differences between this and most other instances of neighbourly noise interfering with the otherwise reasonable expectation of being able to enjoy a quiet household: namely that this is highly likely to be something completely outside of the control of the neighbours. Babies don't come with a volume knob.

If you're going to live in an urban setting in a terrace house then you can't expect to enjoy a perfectly quiet house in all situations. And this, unfortunately, is one of this situations.

The OP can bet that the parents are doing it ten times tougher than he or she is. But he or she can also look forward to the situation changing, quite possibly in a matter of weeks. Babies don't stay babies for very long, and as others have noted sleep and crying patterns can change dramatically over a very short period of time.
posted by puffmoike at 10:36 AM on May 3, 2008 [1 favorite]

I have not had a child, but it's kind of blowing my mind that people are taking offence at someone being upset about an ongoing noise disturbance, and implying that it should be just accepted or dealt with because it's a baby.

Yes, it's an apartment. Yes, babies can't control their crying and don't come with volume knobs. BUT. The OP was not, I'd assume, consulted in the decision to have the child, and the screaming kid is now adversely affecting the OP's life. Suggesting that the OP should just suck it up, "imagine what the PARENTS are going through!!!", or spending money on food or gifts for the people whose child is making his life miserable is rather deluded.

What can the parents do? Sure, maybe they can't magically shut the kid up, but why should it be their neighbours' responsibility to soundproof their apartments against someone else's screaming kid? Speak to the parents, explain the situation, and when they understand that this kid is disrupting the lives of everyone around them (I guarantee that if the OP hears the kid, the upstairs neighbours hear the kid, the downstairs neighbours hear the kid ... you get the idea), then the onus of responsibility is on the people who chose to bring the kid into the world to take some measures to deaden the noise, be it increased efforts to calm the kid, soundproofing THEIR apartment, explanation/apology/requests for understanding, etc.
posted by the luke parker fiasco at 11:04 AM on May 3, 2008 [2 favorites]

the luke parker fiasco, how exactly would a potential parent involve a neighbor in their decision to have a child? Should they have knocked on his door a year ago? "We're thinking of trying to have a baby, just checking whether some potential noise for a few weeks or months next year will bother you. It might? Okay, we'll put that off, then." If the original poster had no expectation of being involved in the decision to have this child, how can the fact that he wasn't involved in the decision to have the child have any bearing on his reaction? It's a red herring.

The original question was how to deal with a noise made by a person who (a) cannot be removed and (b) cannot be successfully argued with. The only easy thing to do is buck up and cope. A distant second suggestion is to try and make the crying happen less often by doing nice things for the baby, directly or indirectly. Unless these are exceptionally bad parents, they are already doing everything they can to make the crying stop, and confronting them will just spread bad feeling around.
posted by fantabulous timewaster at 2:46 PM on May 3, 2008 [1 favorite]

I can't speak for The Luke Parker Fiasco, but my point was obviously not that the neighbors should consult Mwongozi about their procreation schedule, but that the neighbors should take responsibility for the consequences of their own actions (baby-having) rather than expecting the neighbors to do so.

It's not that complicated to move the baby's crib away from the wall. It's not that complicated to hang some thick blankets on the shared wall or tack up some foam or something to deaden the noise.

My point is that those actions should be taken by the neighbors -- the ones who are causing the problem -- not by Mwongozi, the one who is suffering from the problem.
posted by mccxxiii at 3:27 PM on May 3, 2008 [1 favorite]

My point is that those actions should be taken by the neighbors -- the ones who are causing the problem -- not by Mwongozi, the one who is suffering from the problem.

Precisely. Just because one cannot stop a baby from crying in the way that one can lower the volume on a stereo does not mean that everyone around should have to suffer for it. Move the crib, soundproof the walls of the baby's room, etc. There is no reason why parents can't show some compassion to people who did not choose to live on the other side of a wall from a screaming baby. And unless these parents are exceptionally thin-skinned, letting them know that their kid is disturbing other people and offering suggestions for dealing with that disturbance, suggestions that they may not have thought of before, is not something which should be taken as an offence.

the luke parker fiasco, how exactly would a potential parent involve a neighbor in their decision to have a child? Should they have knocked on his door a year ago? ...

Not quite. True, the reference to being included in the decision was, obviously, a bit of sarcasm, but implying that people who didn't choose to live on the other side of a wall from a screaming baby have no right to complain about that screaming baby is a fallacy. Yeah, babies cry. That's what they do. But just because babies cry doesn't mean that people with no relationship to them should have to suffer as a result. I don't feel bad for the parents; everyone in the world knows that babies cry, and if they chose to have a child they either factored this into their decision or were extraordinarily shortsighted. I do feel bad for the people who have to suffer one of the miseries of parenthood without having chosen to be parents.

Bottom line: Mwongozi, I feel for you. It's a difficult situation you're in. Were I a new parent whose child was disturbing my neighbours, I'd want to know, because I'd feel awful knowing that my child was disrupting someone else's life, and I'd want to do what I could to lessen the disturbance for those around me. Let them know, preferably in person, but if you feel that they will react badly for some reason, perhaps a well-written note on their door or mailbox. Explain that you sympathise with their situation, but it's become a strain on your life, and offer some potential suggestions for alleviating the difficulty.
posted by the luke parker fiasco at 9:43 AM on May 4, 2008

« Older Here's why I think cats could never drive cars   |   The Opposite of Lonely Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.