When witching hour strikes at dinnertime, we wonder why on earth our babies are beyond consoling. It happens every day, and many parents are puzzled as to its occurrence. A quick Google search will tell you it’s ‘normal’, ‘developmental’, ‘a phase’. One of the big reasons why it happens is because of overstimulation in babies.
One of the reasons why overstimulation in babies happens is because life itself is stimulating. For a baby, everything is a new experience. By the end of the day, it can cause a baby to be overstimulated and overtired. When a baby enters into this state, the stress hormone, cortisol, floods the brain, stimulating the sympathetic nervous system which is responsible for the flight or fight response. The heart rate increases, breathing becomes rapid and muscles tighten. This is a stress response and babies will communicate this by crying and become difficult to soothe.
Signs of Overstimulation
- Loss of eye contact
- Glazed expression
- Disorganised body movement (jerky movements)
- Rubbing eyes
- Pale pallor
What causes overstimulation?
Everything is a sensory experience to a baby. A trip to the supermarket is full of new sensations. A baby’s hearing is highly sensitive so the beeping at the checkout feels so much louder than to our adult ears. The air is full of chemicals which send signals to the brain to distinguish smells. The smell of the freshly baked bread will make your baby’s brain work extremely hard. One of the underdeveloped senses is sight. A baby’s vision is underdeveloped at the newborn stage so everything is blurry and black and white. A baby can only properly focus on a face and see long range at around 3 months old. Therefore, if you aren’t directly in their field of vision, the world can seem a scary place without that reassuring smile close by.
How to prevent overstimulation in babies
As lovely as the expensive, flashy, colourful toys are, your baby just doesn’t need them when they are newborn. You are their favourite toy. You provide them with as much sensory experience that they need. Here are a few ideas on how you can engage with your baby, without overstimulating
- Baby Gazing – holding eye contact with your baby and smiling provides the eye contact that they need. This is the first stage of communication. When your baby averts his gaze, then you know he has had enough.
- Babywearing on a walk– Experiencing the world whilst having the security of being up close to you is a wonderful way to stimulate your baby. She can focus on your face but experience the new sounds and smells. The comfort of your close presence will keep your baby from entering into the ‘flight or flight’ state.
- Getting out into nature – when we are outside, our bodies automatically become calmer. Going for a walk in nature will be stimulating and calming at the same time.
- Singing – your baby loves the sound of your voice because it is what he knows so well. Babies respond well to rhythmic sounds and a study in 2016 found that infant-directed songs provide comfort and reassurance to your baby. There is also a lot of research to support that singing has a significant impact on a baby’s cognitive development too.
Soothing an overstimulated baby
When your baby is overstimulated, then here are my top tips for soothing your baby
- Turn off the TV/radio – the television can often be on most of the day, as background noise which we sometimes don’t even notice as an adult. However, due to a baby’s sensitive hearing, it can be a constant source of stimulation.
- Move into a dimly lit room as light can be a source of overstimulation.
- Taking some slow deep breaths- breathing is a great way to activate your rest and digest state (parasympathetic nervous system) and when you slow your breathing down whilst holding your baby, she will imitate your breathing pattern.
Remember, calm breeds calm. The calmer you are, the calmer your baby will be! Overstimulation affects many babies within the fourth trimester and beyond. I share all of my top advice and tips for getting through the fourth trimester in my online course, where you will learn how to soothe your baby when overstimulation strikes and so much more.