Overstimulated Baby and Ways to Manage It

It’s a challenge to handle an overstimulated baby but it helps to understand how we get to that point and ways to manage it.

An overstimulated baby may be unable to recognize the usual routine.

While this presents a challenge, there are ways to manage the situation and encourage the rest that baby needs. For me, it was one of those parenting opportunities that helped me learn to seize the moment and let my intuition guide my actions. It also took a lot of practice and patience.

I know that feeling of dread that comes with the realization this overstimulated baby needs sleep desperately. I’ve felt that sense of worry that sleep will become a hard-fought battle. Managing a situation with an overstimulated baby is possible, but it helps to understand how we get to that point.

How does overstimulation occur?  It happens when experiences, levels of activity, sensations, sounds, or stimuli become too much for baby to handle. The stimulation exceeds baby's threshold, and it's too much for baby to cope with.

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There are situations that it may be difficult to avoid, like being at a family party with forty relatives that have a ton of love with the best intentions. Even in these scenarios, though, it helps to recognize the cues of an overstimulated baby and implement some ways to manage it.

Here are some cues of an overstimulated baby:

- Rubbing eyes

- Burying face in hands or on your shoulder

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- Looking away or repeatedly tries to turn away

- Acting fussy, pushing your hands away, stiffened body tone

- Yawning, frowning, sneezing, hiccups

- Unable to settle with something that is usually comforting

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Though a loud party with music, lots of people, and dancing may be an obvious environment for overstimulation, it may also be an easy afternoon at home while chatting with visitors. It depends on the baby, but we all have our good days and bad.

Whether it's a big event, or a day at home with laundry, cooking, and cleaning to do, the single most important factor to managing an overstimulated baby is to recognize the cues.

Timing is everything.

My personal experience varied between my two children. I distinctly remember strolling around Manhattan with my son; there would be days when we could get to two or three stores without any issues and days when just the sounds on the street would be sensory overload.

I had some days that I was a rock star at recognizing cues and was right on target with timing so that he could settle down. Other days, I was hard on myself for letting him get too worked up and knew that we missed the window of time. It made it more difficult for him to get the proper rest he needed. To be honest, I was frustrated because it made my day more challenging as well.

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Here are some tips to help and manage an overstimulated baby regardless of the situation:

Slow things down

Whether you're at a family event or sitting at home, take ten minutes and step into a quiet spot where you can reconnect with baby and offer comfort and calm. Try swaddling, rocking/swaying, and some skin contact with you.

Rhythmic Sounds

Hearing your voice in a soft tone, singing a lullaby, or hearing white noise may help. Alternatively, if baby is far too overstimulated to calm down, try turning on the washing machine or vacuum cleaner. Baby may also be soothed by a car ride in the car seat.

Change the environment 

If baby has been in a loud or crowded area, find a dimly lit place that doesn't have many distractions. Their little nervous system has been overloaded, and a change in the environment can offer a necessary "switch" from turbo mode to calm mode.

Recognize the cues

When baby is oversensitized, often so are we. We need to be calm so that baby can feel comforted. Admittedly, there were times when my son or daughter finally began to calm down, but I was probably too worked up to notice. If baby has settled down and looks ready to accept the notion of sleep, go with it.

When it comes to an overstimulated baby and ways to manage it, what has worked for you?

Linda Scruggs

Linda Scruggs

Linda Scruggs RN, BSN serves as a resource for parents in the digital space, creating helpful health and wellness content. She has specialized for over 12 years in reproductive medicine, and family and women's health as a nurse. A mom of two young children, her work can be seen on her own blog via her site, lindascruggs.com, as a contributor to The Huffington Post, and created the patient education program in one of the top fertility centers in the country. Linda is all about empowerment in motherhood and would love to connect.

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