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Is my Baby Over-Stimulated?

Stimulation is important for development – which we all know. However, as stimulation is important so it is to not over stimulate your baby.

The only way babies can communicate with us is by crying. When a baby cries, we of course try to resolve the usual problems like hunger, nappy change etc., but sometimes our efforts don’t help and we still have a screaming baby. What not many parents may realize is that babies sometimes cry to exercise their lungs or they can be over stimulated. But how do you know if it’s over stimulation?

Newborn babies can easily get over-stimulated. Babies are born with an immature nervous system and it may take them many months to be able to control the amount of stimulation flooding their nervous system. Therefore babies under the age of 3 months cannot switch off their senses like we can. For instance, we don’t think about the feeling of our clothing touching our skin or the ring on our finger because our brain tells us it is not important. A baby’s brain however cannot do that yet. They feel, see and hear everything going on around them. So sometimes when there is too much happening at once, it becomes too ‘stressful’ for them to handle.

A baby’s temperament also plays a part in how much stimulation they can receive. Easy going babies can handle more than sensitive babies and intense babies cannot handle much at all. We need to learn how to read their behavioural cues because they can’t tell us when they’ve had enough. If we misread their subtle behaviour it may escalate into screaming, over tiredness or even other distressed behaviours that we often mistake for pain.

There are several things you can do to help prevent over-stimulation. Try to avoid busy situations like too many people around your baby, too much noise, too much toys or even too much play time with mommy and daddy. You don’t need to exclude it altogether, just keep it down to a minimum and if your baby starts crying and you know it’s not the usual things then take her to a peaceful spot where she can be alone and calm herself down.

Children who are not over-stimulated too much in baby hood, grow up to become more independent, usually with greater confidence and self-esteem.

As a parent, you are teaching your baby from the moment he is born, even before. In most cases parents do it without even realizing, like when you teach your baby to sleep. Certain cues you give tells your baby “this is how you sleep”. If given often enough, within a few days your baby will associate these cues with sleeping. If the cues you provide involve you (like rocking), your baby will begin to depend on your help in order to fall asleep.

Once a baby is dependent on a parents help to fall asleep, many other problems may occur. Your baby may become over tired, he may struggle to fall asleep with anyone else or he may also require you to help him stay asleep - meaning that if you do not help him at the exact moment he stirs between sleep cycles he is far more likely to wake up.

What are Sleep Cycles? 
It may seem like we sleep through the night without waking up, but in fact we wake up often during the night, usually we don’t remember it in the morning. This is because our sleep consists of 5 different sleep cycles which repeat throughout the night and is separated by a brief awakening.

Just because your child has woken up, does not mean he has had enough sleep!

Know the signs:

It is not easy to tell you the exact signs your baby will give you that he is over-stimulated as each baby is different and you need to pick up on your baby’s behavioural cues. It is important to learn their different cries; to know when they are hungry, uncomfortable, in pain etc., but I can help you recognize over stimulation easier by pointing out some behavioural cues your baby will most likely give you when over stimulated.

  • First obvious sign is crying. You might not be sure at first if they are hungry, or wet, or in pain but if it is none of the usual problems and your baby is still crying then he could very well be over stimulated. A great clue will be the environment. Are you at a place where there are too many people, noises, lights, activity etc.? If so, take your baby to a quieter spot and see if that doesn’t help.
  • A baby can become over stimulated with even one person. A big hint from your baby will be if he turns away from you, avoiding eye contact, when you are giving him attention. He will be non-responsive.
  • An over stimulated child might also arch his back, close his eyes or pull away from the person holding him. 
  • He will be cranky. This is a sure sign or irritableness and will turn into a cry if ignored.
  • Sleepy. They will rub their eyes, yawn or become grouchy. If your child is showing signs of tiredness, it is best to remove any stimulation to avoid over stimulation and over tiredness.
To avoid over-stimulation and over-tiredness don’t excite your baby before nap times, rather get them into a calm, relaxed state. Give them a bath, read them a story, cuddle lightly, play some soft classical music, dim the lights and put them in their cot. This will give them the cue to go and sleep, by themselves, and not become over tired or over stimulated.