The newborn life is full of guessing games and uncertainty. You want to feed them enough but not overfeed them. You want them to sleep a lot, but not too much during the day. And you want to play with them but don’t want them to get overwhelmed. For the majority of the newborn phase, you’ll be wondering, “Am I doing this right?” more times than you can count. While many things will always be a guess, there are signs you can look at that will help you determine exactly how your baby is feeling.
Overstimulation happens when a baby is exposed to too much at once and can’t handle the influx of stimuli coming their way. For us, being around a few people is normal. But for a newborn, this type of socialization is brand new and can be a lot for their little minds to process. When a baby becomes overstimulated, they often get cranky, and it can affect their ability to fall asleep and stay asleep.
Signs Your Baby is Overstimulated
- They become fussy even though they are fed, comfortable, clean, and not yet overtired.
- They begin to clench their fists together.
- They cover their ears, rub their eyes, or put their hands over their face to cover themselves.
- They start to make sudden, jerking movements.
- They may begin to cry uncontrollably.
- They start to turn their heads away from the noise or image, causing overstimulation.
- They become withdrawn or seem suddenly spacy.
- They begin to breathe at a quicker pace.
If you begin to see any of these signs in your newborn, remove them from their current situation as soon as you can and take them to a quiet, calm place.
Causes of Overstimulation in a Newborn
- A loud place, like a grocery store or crowded shopping mall
- A birthday party
- Screens, such as TV, tablets, and phones
- Activities happening when they are used to napping or sleeping
- Being passed around to different people
- Activities that last a long time
How to Help After Your Baby Becomes Overstimulated
When your baby feels overwhelmed, it’s important to take them away from the stimulations and help to calm them down. Just as adults often need quiet time, newborns (and all aged children) do too. If you see your baby close to tears or exhibiting the signs above, take them outside to look at nature. Or better yet, if possible, into their room with the lights low. If you are out and about and unable to get outside or into their room, try taking a walk away from the chaos. Some babies may respond well to being fed. Drape a blanket over you both while you breast or bottle feed to create a darker, calmer environment.
Know What to Expect and Plan Ahead
Sometimes, it is impossible to avoid overstimulation with kids. Our children need to get out and see the world, and with that comes a lot of new and often overwhelming things for them to discover. To help lessen their overstimulation, consider altering your way of doing things.
If you usually go grocery shopping with your baby on Saturday mornings, consider going when the store is less crowded with people. If you are going to a party or event, make it known that you will only be able to attend for a short amount of time before you arrive. On the weekends, try to plan one activity per day and leave the rest of the day to calmer activities at home. A somewhat consistent schedule can also help lessen overstimulation in your baby if they know what to expect and when they are often ready for newer activities in those allotted times. This also helps as your baby gets older.
If your baby does get overstimulated—don’t fret! It’s extremely common and will probably happen way more than once during the newborn phase. Look for signs as best you can. And when those signs appear, take your baby away from the situation and calm them however you can at that moment. Not recognizing these signs over and over can sometimes lead to poor sleep patterns and a fussy, unruly baby. Pay attention to what your baby is communicating to you as best you can, and you’ll be able to avoid any negative aspects of taking your newborn out and about. You got this, mama!