Learn How To Tell If Your Baby Is Being Under-Stimulated Or Over-Stimulated

Learn How To Tell If Your Baby Is Being Under-Stimulated Or Over-Stimulated

Over-stimulation can cause confusion and anxiety and lead to a greater need to cry. It occurs when the environment contains many new objects, sights, or sounds that the baby cannot yet understand, but to which he is paying attention. If your baby is sleeping or ignoring the stimulation, he will probably not be affected. For over-stimulation to occur, it is necessary for your baby to be taking in new sensory information and attempting to understand it.

You can expect your baby to cry following overstimulating experiences, because it is frustrating and confusing to be exposed to information that is not meaningful. The crying allows the distress and confusion to dissipate, and leaves the baby open and receptive for new learning experiences.

Babies need the loving attention of another person while they are crying. Continuing to stimulate your baby or trying to divert his attention will not help, as it will only postpone the crying and perhaps even provide more over-stimulation for him to cry about. When a baby can relate a new sight or sound to something already in his memory, the reception of such information will probably be pleasurable rather than painful.

It is also possible to under-stimulate babies. Under-stimulation occurs when the environment is very familiar, and lacks enough new experiences or toys to which the baby can relate. A baby in such a boring environment will be intellectually starved and will probably cry until new stimulation arrives. By crying, he is expressing the great need he has for stimulation.

If babies cry because of both under-stimulation and over-stimulation, how can you differentiate the two? When should you offer more stimulation and when should you stop trying to stimulate your baby? This is not an easy question to answer, but a useful guideline is your baby's own cues.

Babies indicate clearly when stimulation overwhelms them. When babies enjoy a form of stimulation, such as a mother singing, they will maintain a relaxed body state, look intently at her, perhaps reach their arm towards her, and coo. When babies are disturbed by some kind of stimulation, they may stiffen their body, turn their head away flex their limbs, or cry.

Some babies are more sensitive to stimulation than others, and they startle easily when a sound, light, or sudden movement disturbs them. Researchers have found that about 20% of all babies are highly reactive to stimuli. This heightened sensitivity can be an inborn character trait, or it can be caused by prenatal drug exposure, a stressful prenatal environment, a premature birth, or other birth trauma. Whatever the cause, these hypersensitive babies need gentle handling with a minimum of stimulation.

If your baby is highly sensitive by nature, you will probably see this character trait continue as he grows older. He is likely to be cautious, conscientious, fearful, sensitive to other people's moods, and easily overwhelmed by new experiences. You will need to be aware of his tolerance level for stimulation, and let him adapt to changes at his own pace.

With your love and support, your sensitive baby can grow into a highly intuitive, thoughtful, creative, and gifted child. Remember, however, that your sensitive baby may need to cry about things that do not distress other babies at all, and this greater need to cry will probably continue as he grows older.

Another guideline for appropriate stimulation is the age of your baby. Newborns are particularly easy to overstimulate, even those who are healthy and born at term, because everything is new and incomprehensible (except for the sounds of a human body and movement). They have enough stimulation to cope with from ordinary routine care, especially if they are carried or held much of the time.

They must adapt to lights and colors, sounds, changes in temperature, hardness and softness, wetness and dryness, stillness and motion. They receive a considerable amount of stimulation from being caressed, diapered, washed, clothed, carried, spoken to, and rocked.

They must adjust to the new sensations of breathing, nursing, digesting, urinating, defecating, burping, smelling, and crying. This takes some time because everything is so different from their experiences in the womb. Much of the crying that occurs in the early months may be due to over-stimulation. As a general guideline, the younger the baby, the easier he is to overstimulate.

Touching or holding your newborn will not overstimulate him, because the need for physical contact is so great. Instead, it is wise to protect your newborn from too much new visual or auditory stimulation during the early weeks. Parents of fretful newborns often think that their infant is bored, so they take him for rides and excursions.

Such experiences are meaningless to young infants and only contribute to over-stimulation and confusion. Until two or three months of age, babies don't like novelty, and tend to prefer looking at pictures with which they are familiar. Nothing seems to bore them.

When your infant reaches two or three months or age, his need for new stimulation will increase, and he will begin to look longer at new pictures than at old, familiar ones. However, the type of stimulation three-month-olds most prefer is that which is only moderately different from familiar experiences. It is your role to fill this new hunger for stimulation, because your baby cannot do it for himself.

Later, when your baby learns to crawl, he will be able to create his own change in stimulation. But until that time, your baby is fairly helpless, and you may find him quite demanding in a new way after three months of age, because his need for stimulation increases. You can fill this need by frequently carrying your baby around with you, and by interacting with him. When you put your baby down, be sure that he has objects within reach, colorful things to look at, and music to listen to.