In the first few months after your baby is born, it is very common for him to cry A LOT and almost impossible for you to figure out why, or to comfort him.
The good news is that this is perfectly normal and it will pass; all babies will go through it, some to a greater degree than others.
It is easy to confuse this stage with colic as the crying tends to occur in the late afternoon or evening and can be long lasting. The crying can escalate to such distress that it can be mistaken for pain. These crying spells can be unexpected and your baby will often resist your attempts to comfort him.
Such behaviour can be extremely stressful for parents, especially when we do not understand what is happening. It is really important to look after yourself in these first few months as well as doing everything you can to ensure your baby’s comfort.
Often, these episodes of persistent crying are due to over stimulation. For newborn babies, over stimulation can result from the simplest of things such as talking to him or making eye contact with him to an extent he is unable to cope with. Another common cause in newborns is too much handling, passing him round to all the well wishing friends and relatives.
Signs that your baby has become over stimulated are –
- Staring into space – when there is too much going on around him, your baby will stop trying to process it and, instead, act completely disinterested in your attempts to get his attention.
- Turning away – If you are trying really hard to get your baby’s attention, but the more you try to interact with him, the more he turns away and won’t really look at you, he is likely to be over stimulated. The best thing to do when this happens is just be still and quiet and simply hold him to you.
- Speeding up of breathing – Your baby’s breathing will speed up when he is exhausted or excited just as ours does as adults. Look out for very subtle changes in breathing.
- Jerking movements – Your baby’s movements may become more jerky especially if he is feeling overwhelmed and on the verge of crying.
- The crying fit – The episode of distress and crying that starts without obvious reason, and cannot be soothed. Often the more you try to comfort or distract your baby, the worse it gets.
When you have begun to notice the very subtle signs of over stimulation, you can start to both reduce stimulation and increase support for your baby.
If you are out and about and you feel the environment is causing a problem, remove your baby from the source of the problem to an environment that is more soothing and quiet. Once in a more calming place, try and spend some quality quiet time there rather than just a brief moment. Wait until you can see that your baby is feeling better. If you return to the problem environment too quickly the issue will soon reoccur.
If you are at home, you could try putting your baby down for a nap earlier than usual. Any schedules you try and keep to can always be caught up with later. If you’re out, your baby may sleep in his car seat, pram or baby sling if you have one.
Simply sitting quietly with your baby without talking or looking at him can also be effective. Just hold him to you; maybe try skin-to-skin contact to help to calm him.
As the weeks go by, your baby’s ability to handle the stimulation of the outside world will increase. Unfortunately however, as your baby gets a little older, the stimulation that he is exposed to will also increase. The amount of visual stimulation he will be exposed to will increase as you start getting out and about with him more. He will come into contact with more people and more places. He may stay awake too long becoming over tired. Excessive exposure to technology can also be a problem.
Therefore, you should bear in mind that over stimulation is not an issue only for newborns, but can occur well into toddlerhood. As you get to know your baby more and more, you will learn to recognise the signs much earlier and learn what actions are most effective for your baby to prevent the problem from escalating.