It’s crucial to avoid overstimulation in infants. Learn about the effects of overstimulation in infants below and ways to tackle it.
Stimulation in Infants
Infants, like adults, can get over-stimulated. It occurs when they are inundated by more experiences, sensations, noise, and activity than they can handle. Every baby is different, and so the threshold for bearable stimuli varies. High sensitivity that is an innate temperamental trait renders some individuals more vulnerable to physical and environmental input.
Sensory stimulation occurs when one or more of these senses are activated: seeing, hearing, touching, smelling, and tasting. Your infant’s brain is dependent on appropriate, repetitive, and consistent stimulation for cognitive, emotional, and physical development. The first 5 years are an intense period of once-in-a-lifetime brain growth and intellectual network building. Infant sensory stimulation lays the groundwork for this, a lack thereof can cause serious developmental delays and affect behavior, communication, attachment, and social/environmental interaction in the long run.
On the other hand, too much of a good thing can be bad. When over-stimulation happens, it startles the infant’s Moro reflex, thereby triggering the release of the hormone cortisol. With frequent sensory overload, this stress hormone floods the brain, putting kids at risk of disrupted development. It is crucial to strike a balance. Suitable sensory stimulation is best received in short bursts, with interspersed rest periods apart from sleeping.
Effects of Overstimulation In Infants
When over-stimulated, infants (≤ 1-year-olds) may show the following signs:
- Be cranky
- Rapid breathing
- Stare off into space
- Exhibit jerky or frantic movements
- Withdraw from touch by turning their head away
- Uncontrollable crying or throwing a temper tantrum
- Lethargy or unusual tiredness
- Clench fists
- Wave arms and legs
- They want you to hold and nurse them frequently or refuse altogether
- Attempt to self-soothe by sucking on hands and fist
Such young infants can’t communicate the source of their distress, it’s up to the caregiver to identify and avoid the cause of overstimulation. Below are some of the common signs of overstimulation:
If the surrounding of the child is too noisy, too bright, too crowded, or too vibrant, it can cause a sensory overload. Overstimulation can even happen if the child has had a long day with excessive activity. Make sure that the baby’s clothes are not too tight or itchy and the temperature around them is comfortable. Babies can even feel suffocated if there are too many people around them who want to hold or talk to the baby.
A delay in bedtime or disrupted naps with other sudden changes in their daily routine can hamper the baby’s brain. Keep your child away from too much screen time and refrain from letting them use TVs, phones, and similar devices as these can overwhelm the baby’s developing brain. Pediatricians recommend avoiding screens till age 2 and limited exposure thereafter. Teething is an uncomfortable experience and can make babies more irritable. Besides, medical conditions like autism can also increase sensory sensitivity
How to Soothe An Over-Stimulated Infant
Leave the triggering surrounding and go somewhere darker and quieter, if you are outdoors, place them in a stroller with a hood or light cover. You can apply steady pressure and mimic the coziness of the womb to comfort the baby. Opt for skin-to-skin contact as it offers security and reassurance from the mother/caregiver. Keep holding them and gently cuddling and rocking till they are calm.
If the baby resists being held, let them lie down in a quiet corner or crib. You may keep a watch but don’t interact. Play soft music or use a white noise machine. Most kids will cry themselves to exhaustion and fall asleep, then wake up feeling much better.
Suitable Sensory Stimulation for Infants
- Hang a colorful, rotating mobile above the baby’s crib to let them watch the movement and become calm.
- Give them a rattle to hold/ shake while they lie alone in the crib.
- Try a variety of play positions to calm them down.
- Give them enough skin-to-skin contact. You may tickle or massage them to relax their mind and body.
- Don’t just talk to your baby, but sing songs or play soothing music in low volume.
- Show them magazines or family photos and point out smiling faces.
- Encourage them to play with toys that have different textures (fabrics/material), shapes, and colors.
- Show them their reflection in a mirror, while calling out their name or their body parts.
- Assist and encourage them to sit, crawl, examine and pick up objects.
- When they are ready, try out new foods, varying in taste and texture.
There are many effects of overstimulation in infants that can adversely hamper their development, both in terms of psychological as well as physical. Regulate the interaction of your baby in family events and watch out for crankiness or irritability. If they start to cry often, separate them in a cozy environment and sing a lullaby.