I am going to talk in this blog about overstimulation of younger babies, but this does apply to all children, overstimulation is a big issue, and one I don’t feel is understood enough. Very young babies, those in the fourth trimester (the first 3-6 months of a baby’s life), DO NOT NEED EXCESS STIMULATION.
What stimulation does a fourth trimester baby need?
Babies have come from the womb, the visual stimulation inside there is zero. They are born into a noisy world of light and dark, of contrast & colour. By the end of the first month a newborn can make eye contact and focus on objects within about 12inches (about the distance between your face and your baby when feeding) and by 3 months they will be beginning to see things in more colour.
We are sold baby toys, pram toys, cot mobiles, baby classes, all sold to us to as “suitable from birth'‘. All on the premise that they are going to benefit our baby, but are they really?? ALL a newborn baby needs is you and your face (and Dad grannies/grandads etc), watching faces is mesmerising for your young baby.
How much stimulation does my Newborn need?
Your baby doesn’t need anything extra from just looking around the room and looking at your face. You don’t need to lay your baby under a play arch, or put toys over your newborn, they will be perfectly happy with your face, and looking at the walls/contrast between light and dark.
A newborn can usually only stay awake for very short bursts, this can be as short as 30 minutes and usually no longer than 1 hr! They can get overstimulated really, really easily, due to the environment they have come from. Even by 6 months many babies can’t deal with any more than 1-1.5hrs of stimulation and awake time! Your newborn may only power nap, but it is very normal to be awake for just 30-45mins then sleep, and during this awake time they don’t need any extra simulation.
What happens if my baby gets overstimulated?
Overstimulated babies are seriously grumpy! Some will deal with overestimation much better than others. Overstimulated babies cry, they can CRY A LOT! The cry can easily be mistaken for a pain or hunger cry. They will also thrash around, they have no control over their limbs during the fourth trimester, so it is very usual to thrash. An overestimated baby can easily be mistaken for a baby with Colic and/or Reflux. Back arching & leg thrusting (purely because they have no limb control), and excessive crying can all be mistaken for symptoms of colic or reflux.
When a baby cry’s it will gulp air. An example of how we can mistake overtiredness/overstimuilation for colic is:
Mum may have missed overtired cues, and baby begins to cry. Mum will eventually settle baby (over stimulated/over tired babies can be really hard to settle) and baby will sleep, a while later baby will let out the air, usually from down below. Mum will then assume that the baby had wind, therefore it was crying, when actually baby is crying due to overstimulation, therefore gulps air which comes out later as wind.
How can I stop it?
Use the 4th trimester as a learning curve. Learn YOUR baby’s tired/overstimulation cues.
Tired cues include, but aren’t limited to:
Turning head into you OR away from you
Staring into space
Movements get jerky
You know your baby far better than anyone else. It can feel like a minefield when your baby is tiny, how do you know what cues it is giving you. My advice is always take your time & relax. Newborn babies feed little and often, and can also sleep little and often. Use the first few weeks to learn what your baby needs and when. If you feel your baby is getting overstimulated you can try some gentle calming techniques, these have NEVER failed me with an overtired/stimulated baby. They key to calming your baby is firm hands and a calm approach.
Containment - Use a swaddle or sling (I loved my Caboo stretchy) to make them feel contained, they were held tight in the womb, so need to be held tight on the outside.
Movement - Rock or sway, BIG, rhythmic movements, a birth ball works brilliantly for this.
Noise - Hoover, Hairdryer or white noise app, or just SSSHHHH with your voice, it needs to be loud, so as loud as a hoover or hairdryer and it needs to carry on until little has calmed and beyond.
Sucking - I am a BIG dummy fan, I will be doing a blog on breastfeeding and dummies as I know it can be contentious so watch this space. Both my girls found their thumbs at 4-6m and were still doing it at 10 years old, so I persevered from birth with a dummy for my boy. If I hadn’t given him a dummy I wouldn’t have breastfed him for so long (16months to self weaning).
Patience & perseverance- Some babies switch off much better than others. If your baby has become overtired and or over stimulated you may find you need to do these things for AT LEAST 10 minutes. We very rarely try anything for more than a couple of minutes with a crying baby, so set a timer, you need at least 10 minutes if not 15-20…
As your baby gets older the cues may change, but over tiredness & overstimulation can be a massive problem for all children. My children’s behaviour is at its worst when they are tired.
You are enough for your baby, don’t give into social or peer pressure to do everything with them from the beginning! Your baby won’t be a genius because you attended a sensory class at 2wks old, or get a better job because you bought the latest in sensory toys! Relax, go with it and trust that you are enough.