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Help! Is my baby overstimulated?

Baby crying

Understanding this one word might just be the key to a peaceful and harmonious first few months with your newborn. Here’s what overstimulation is and how to manage it.

From her first breath, a baby is exposed to an onslaught of new sensations – from sounds, sights, to tastes and smells and feelings. Because she is born without sensory filters, she has to develop the ability to organise these sensations and act appropriately on all the incoming information.

Unfiltered sensory input can be overwhelming, and in the process of learning, a baby will transition (sometimes quickly) from a calm, alert phase to a ‘had enough’ phase.

Is my baby overstimulated?

Signs that a baby has had enough stimulation are important to recognize, so that you can control the stimulatory environment for your baby. Keeping things controlled in the beginning, and being your baby’s sensory filter, will lead to greater harmony and fewer stressful outbursts.

The process of interpretation and integration is complex: “Each person’s response to sensory input results in unique behaviours. Enjoyment and functionally effective behaviour comes from the integration of ALL the senses simultaneously!” explains occupational therapist for Nubabi Lourdes Bruwer.

“The key is to observe your baby’s behaviour on an ongoing basis, especially in new situations. Look out for both signs of enjoyment and signs of sensory overload,” says Carly Tzanos, occupational therapist.

Here’s a guide to reading your baby’s signals:

Enjoyment Disinterst Sensory Overload
Kicking legs and arms Looking away from your face Hiccups
Smiling Avoiding eye contact Flushing of the cheeks
Cooing Moaning Pallor or loss of colour in the cheeks
Gurgling Back arching Arm flailing
Making a big “oooo” with his mouth Starting to cry Pupils dilating
Looking at you   Increased breathing rate / heart rate
    Overly quiet or overly vocal (whichever is out of character for your child)

If you find your baby heading for a state of sensory overload, there are a number of effective ways to cut out the stimulus, and help her reach a calm, relaxed state again:

  • Use rhythmical rocking movements to help calm her down
  • Find a quiet place to feed her and put her to sleep or calm him
  • Give him a reassuring deep cuddle in new or busy situations
  • Give him something to chew on (e.g. a teething ring or toy) while travelling in the car
  • Play soft, classical music
  • Cover car windows with window shades
  • Shelter his eyes when going into bright sunlight or cover his pram when in a crowded place
  • Alter your tone of voice to sooth and calm him or her.

Being in tune with your babe will help you identify his or her possible overstimulation triggers and recognize the signs he’s had too much. Developing your own strategies for calming will bring peace, contentment, and greater connection for you both.

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