Baby overstimulation: How to read the signs


Babies and overstimulation

Oh, the joy when a new baby comes into the world! There’s nothing more tempting than to hold and cuddle the little one; the urge to get our hands on them can be almost overwhelming. Especially when they are long-awaited and there’s been much excitement about their birth.

But like most of our interactions with other people and yes, the baby is an individual in their own right, it’s worth considering what their experience may be.

What do you think they may be feeling when you are close? This is a question which all of us need to ask, no matter what our relationship with the new baby. It shows empathy and respect for them as a person, no matter how small they may be. (Thank you Dr. Suess!)

But she wants me to hold her!

Babies are hard-wired to receive attention and seek interaction with others. They are very skilful in helping us fall in love with them. This maximises their chances of survival. It also forms the basis for learning what it means to become a social being.

Without the care and attention of parents and other humans, babies would not survive to adulthood. From birth right through to late adolescence children need lots of nurturing care and looking after so they can reach their potential as adults.

Give me some space, please

But babies aren’t always great at letting us know when they need us to step back.

It’s important to understand that babies sometimes need space and time alone. That no matter how dependent and vulnerable they are there will still be periods of time when they don’t want or need anything or anyone else but to be alone.

It can be hard to separate our own needs to be close from what is right for them.

None of us like to feel as if we aren’t being listened to when we say we’ve had enough. But, of course, babies aren’t able to communicate this message, which is why we, as bigger and stronger adults, need to pick up on their subtle little signs and avoid overstimulation.

What overstimulated babies do

  • They look away and break eye contact.
  • Yawn, stretch and grizzle.
  • Their eyes get heavy and they go to sleep.
  • May behave as if they’re hungry and want to suck.
  • Go to sleep when they are feeding, even if they aren’t full.
  • Cry, become unsettled and hard to please.
  • Their cry changes in its pitch and intensity.
  • They are unsettled, unhappy and generally not easy to care for.

Times when enough is enough

  • After feeding, when your baby is full of milk and not showing any hunger signs.
  • When they are tired.
  • When they have already had playtime and used up all of their energy.
  • When they have been handled a lot.
  • When they’ve been passed around to many people
  • When they have been out of their usual routine.
  • When they are unwell.
  • During growth spurts when they need lots of sleep.

How to ramp down the stimulation

  • Think about what you’re doing. Are you jiggling, cuddling, patting and rocking the baby when they are telling you they’ve had enough?
  • Concentrate on what the baby may be telling you.
  • Be ‘in the moment’ and consider what they are feeling.
  • Turn off noise.
  • Darken the room.
  • Relax your body; drop your shoulders and release any tension you feel.
  • Stop talking. Focus on soothing sounds like shshsh, but in a soft tone.
  • Make sure your baby is comfortable e.g. not hungry, dry nappy, warm etc.
  • Give your baby a cuddle and place them into their cot for a sleep.
  • Pat or stroke them gently.
  • Leave the room if they are calm.

How to limit visitors

  • Tell people before they come that an hour or so is enough. Most reasonable people will understand.
  • Ask your partner to if you’re not able yourself.
  • Consider going to visit people rather than others coming to you. You can decide when to leave.
  • Don’t answer your phone.
  • Bunker down at home, draw the curtains and pretend you’re not home.
  • Advocate for your baby. If you see them becoming tired and cranky speak on their behalf. Saying “you’ve had enough now have you?” Generally does the trick.