We went through the perfect pregnancy and birth, or the toughest pregnancy and birth, and thought it would be smooth sailing from there. Things are getting worse – our beautiful bundle screams when we hand her to granny, screams after feeding, screams, screams, screams! What should we do to connect with our baby?’ I wrote this short article to focus on understanding your baby’s mind a bit better. As a chiropractor I treat babies with various reasons for and patterns of excessive crying. Overstimulation is one of the first things to look at when we want to understand these little wonders.
The transition from being in the womb to living with all the sights, sounds, smells and movements of the world can be overwhelming for babies. Once they ‘wake up’ at between 14 and 21 days of age, they suddenly start to take everything in, with unhappy consequences if babies are not kept calm and secure. For the first six to twelve weeks of a baby’s life, they thrive in a calming and nurturing environment.
Babies are easily overstimulated by the everyday things that happen around them. For newborns, being passed from person to person, being played with loudly or vigorously, being tickled, or having television noise in the background can easily overstimulate them. They have coping mechanisms to deal with this: When a baby has learned or seen enough, look out for the following signs: They might start breathing faster, flinging their head from side to side, avoid eye contact, start to arch backwards, get niggly, and if all else fails, they close their eyes and scream.
Babies learn best when they are calm and rested, and babies rest best when they are calm. We can create a calm environment to prevent overstimulation by doing the following:
- For the first 6 weeks, keep your baby in a wrap strapped to you whenever possible. This is especially helpful for family visits – it is best to avoid passing baby around. It is fine to make friends and family aware that your baby will be ready to play and interact when she is bigger and more developed. Carrying your baby in a wrap also prevents reflux and helps to strengthen their back and neck muscles. A newborn has optimal sight at about 30cm – this is the ideal distance to be from your baby for the first 4-6 weeks of their life. This way your baby can calm down by seeing the face that they know best – it brings security to their minds.
- Keep your home calm and relatively quiet, especially from the early afternoon to bed time. The later it gets, the more cumulative stimulation your baby carries that will need to be discharged before bed time.
- Make sure that your baby’s clothes are not scratchy and don’t have scratchy labels. Avoid touching your baby with light, wispy touches. Babies get very irritable by light touch. It is best to touch a baby with deep, calm touching; gently squeezing their arms and legs would calm them down, while stroking their faces would easily set them off.
- Do not wear perfume, and ask family members to do the same – the sharp smells are overwhelming for babies.
- Do not watch television with your child nearby, and don’t leave the television on throughout the day. The sound of the static and the noise of the television is stimulating. White noise apps, a fan or water feature, gentle music and singing are all calming to babies. The house doesn’t need to be perfectly quiet, talk around your baby; this will put them at ease.
You may ask ‘What about stimulation and teaching my child?!’ You’re right, your child should be stimulated! How? By being in close contact with a parent, new borns are given the ideal environment to learn and grow optimally. A parent’s smell, heart rate, voice and movements are calming and familiar to a new born. New borns will get to know these sensations and learn new things by comparing the new sights and sounds to the ones they already know. By providing the same things each day for the first few weeks of their life, you help their minds and thoughts to become organised in the best possible way. Most babies are calmed by a walk in the park, on the beach or around the block. Make sure they are covered up, and have fun with your precious little one!
Once a baby is overstimulated, use the 5 S’s of colic to calm your child down:
- Shh – make a (fairly loud) shh or humming sound
- Swadde – Swaddle the arms lightly
- Side (Hold your baby in the ‘tiger in a tree’ pose: let their head rest on your forearm while you hold them between the legs.
- Swing – While holding them on their side, swing side to side. Or sit on a pilates ball with your baby upright and bounce firmly but not vigorously.
- Happiest Baby on the Block. 2015. Dr Harvey Karp
- Baby Sense. 2010. Megan Faure, Ann Richardson