Does Your Baby Cry Because of Overstimulation?

by sheilamarie

Overstimulation can make a baby cry or withdraw. Why babies cry can seem a mystery when you know baby is not hungry or tired or hurting. Can overstimulation be the culprit?

Why do babies cry? Well, if your baby is not hungry or tired or in pain, maybe your baby is overstimulated.

A new little person in the world has many things to take stock of all at once. Have you noticed your baby crying without a discernible cause? There could be many reasons for that and overstimulation is only one possible culprit.

Look here for clues to find out how to tell whether your baby is overstimulated and what to do to help.

Photo by Shune at sxc

Overstimulation and Your Baby

Baby Cry for Help

Every parent has seen it: the little scrunched up face, unconsolable crying, maybe hands lifted to the face and positioned in such a way as if to push you away.

Could your baby be overstimulated?

From the security of the womb, babies are thrust out into the chaos of modern life. Sure some babies have temperaments that make the stimulation even more difficult to process, but all babies can be overstimulated. Their little bodies and minds are not yet equipped to filter out the noise in their lives. They feel as if everything is coming crashing in to their little worlds. 

So what else can they do but either withdraw or cry?

Signs Your Baby Is Overstimulated 

  • Does your baby cry excessively? Every baby cries sometimes, but a baby experiencing sensory overload can cry more than most. Check first that he isn't hungry, tired, or needing a diaper change.
  • Withdrawal. If your baby is overstimulated, she can seem to withdraw from contact, not meeting your eyes or seeming to be interested in play.
  • Sleeping more than normal. A baby who is overstimulated will sleep more than the amount of time she requires.
  • Arching back and tensing up her body: This is how your baby shows you she is overstimulated.
  • Hard to calm down. An overstimulated baby cannot handle the amount of sound and images before her, so trying to calm her in the usual ways may not work.

Why Is My Baby Overstimulated?

Even though a new baby is developed enough to be born, doesn’t mean he or she can handle things just the way we do. At birth several systems in the baby’s little body may not be completely developed. The baby’s nervous system, for example, is still immature. The connections between brain cells are still forming, and this means that even as they are starting to connect, the communication between nerves and brain may not be smooth yet. All of the sites and sounds around him will put your baby’s system into overload. The baby tries to shut down because he cannot handle the bombardment of stimuli he feels. This bombardment makes him uncomfortable, which is why he cries. His nervous system crashes, which is why he withdraws or sleeps.

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Have You Seen These Symptoms in Your Baby?

Classic Signs of Overstimulation
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So that's why my baby arches her back!
katiem2 on 06/07/2012

My eldest was very fussy about over stimulation, to this day she is so laid back, love classical music and a good book, amazing for a teenager.

What You Can Do to Help

Your Overstimulated Baby

Your baby needs you to provide an environment in which he is safe and protected from being overloaded.

If your baby is behaving in the way mentioned above, you can turn down the volume in the room and soften the lights. It may mean taking the baby to another room for a while where it is quiet, if adjusting the noise and brightness is not possible. Tell the other people around that your baby needs some quiet time, and keep them from being too much in his face right now. If you can protect him from overload now, he’ll be better able to interact later when he has the capacity.

Being overstimulated says more about the environment than about your baby. As he grows, he will be able to handle more, but right now he depends on you to protect him from too much stimulation. 

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Routine in Your Baby’s Life

Establishing a Routine Can Be Helpful

Having a regular routine -- sleep at certain times, meals at certain times -- helps your baby regulate his systems and get the rest and nutrition he needs. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t breastfeed on demand, it just means that when your baby transitions to eating solid foods, you should try to keep mealtimes and sleep times regular. 

When you have a routine, your baby will be better able to predict what is coming next, which gives him a feeling of security. You will also have fewer discipline problems when the child sees the world as a trustworthy place where his needs are being met. You will have an easier time transitioning from play time to bedtime when the child can recognize the pattern and knows what is coming next. 

Of course children with certain temperaments have an easier or a harder time with transitions, but doing your part to establish routines ensures the results are better than they would be if just anything goes.

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Updated: 08/20/2013, sheilamarie
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katiem2 on 06/07/2012

My first born was very sensitive to over stimulation. I listened to a lot of classical music and lived a very peaceful life before she was born. She never like loud noisy places or radical kids who played loud, and the like. Glad to learn it wasn't just me. Great help for fussy babies, it is unnerving when you can calm them.

sheilamarie on 03/12/2012

Kinworm and CountryMouseStudio, thanks for commenting. It's helpful for parents in the midst of this crying baby stress to know they are not the only ones to experience this and to know the crying does ease up eventually. I'm sure your comments will give courage to someone who needs a little support right now. Lots of babies have a difficult time.

Marie on 03/11/2012

My little girl had colic which didn't help but we had a tough first 5 months. After really working hard to get a bedtime routine firmly in place, she settled down and the crying lessened considerably. We still have a good routine in place now she's at school and it really helps.

CountryMouseStudio on 03/11/2012

Good article, they need to give this information to new moms. I had two such babies. The most difficult one was my son who couldn't even stand the movement from rocking. How the heck do you comfort a baby like that?

sheilamarie on 03/11/2012

Thanks for your comment, Katiem2. Yes, babies can benefit from a peaceful environment.

katiem2 on 03/10/2012

This is so true, my eldest cried if in an overstimulating environment. To this day she likes soft music and low noise. Peaceful surroundings are so good for baby.

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