Is your baby having trouble going to sleep during nap time? How about at night? Do you find they are cranky a lot? It's not always colic, one additional culprit is that they are overstimulated.

If you have determined they aren't having any tummy issues, this may be your other issue to troubleshoot. Babies become overstimulated very easily in the earlier months because their brains aren't equipped to take in all of the input from the world around them. As they get older, children can become overwhelmed if they have a busy day where active participation is required. It's something to be aware of, and be in tune with when it comes to your individual child so you can help them through. 

 

What is overstimulation?

To overstimulate a baby means:

: to cause (someone or something) to become too active or excited

: to stimulate (someone or something) too much

What this means is, your baby can become overwhelmed easily by a room that is active with noise, being held by several people over the course of a short time, or seeing and being engaged in the busy world around them for an extended period of time.

As your child grows this is also true - you may find that they melt down after a big day with friends at the park or if they have a long day at school and then are required to participate in an after school activity. Each child has a different threshhold for stimulation and taking in the world around them, so it's important to tune into what their limits are so you can help them have the quiet time that they need to decompress.  

Signs of overstimulation.

  • Cranky, crying, fitful
  • Turns head away or puts hands in front of eyes (this was a big tell for one of our preemies)
  • Balls up hands, pulls legs up to chest
  • Toddlers/preschoolers may have have meltdowns and/or may refuse an activity

How you can prevent overstimulation?

When your baby is in their first year of life, they don't require endless hours of entertaining to be content. In fact, it's a lot less than that before they become tired. From the first day you bring baby home, play close attention to how they react to the world around them.

Are they getting upset after the radio is on for a long period of time?

Did you have them facing the TV right before they had an epic tantrum?

Were they held by several family members over the course of an hour and then couldn't fall asleep for their normal naptime?

All of these activities may have been too much for them - resulting in overstimulation. It may not seem like a family member holding your baby is stimulation, but when Aunt Bertie is cooing, kissing and making silly faces at baby and then Grandpa John bounces baby as he debates the latest election with Daddy, that's a lot of activity for your young baby. The best thing to do is break up those interactions, and offer your little one some quiet, stimulation free time in another space while you get in family visits. Make sure you stick to your normal naptime routines and allow baby time separate from those visits with family. Consider how drained you feel after a full day of visiting and interacting with family - baby feels the same way, but they become overwhelmed much quicker. 

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What should you do if they become overstimulated?

Some great strategies that worked for my kids (and other parents that we know) is to swaddle them up and take them to a quiet space. If I didn't have that option, and we were out and about, I would try to make sure they were in their stroller or carseat and I would close the cover over their sight line so they couldn't see all the activity going on around them. While it didn't shut out sound, it eliminated one of their senses from being overloaded. 

Another option that worked was a baby carrier - I would use the Moby Wrap to carry around baby. They were snug to my chest where they could listen to my hearbeat and I could often obscure their views and use a gentle shushing sound if the noise around them had become too much. There was something about the shushing noise that was soothing for my kids, versus stimulating. 

Consider how long you have your baby engaging in their activity time and shorten that time. Tummy time, swing and playmat time are all fun, until it becomes too much. If you notice your baby has a fit during these times, it may not be because they hate that activity, more than they just need it shortened in legnth. 

As my children became older, we removed them from an activity or situation and offered them quiet time just sitting, and they had frequent naps. They don't always know why they are frustrated or annoyed, but time away from a busy room, ending a busy day or just allowing them some time without having a task to do can diffuse the build up. 

Remember...

We're all doing the best we can. If your child becomes overstimulated, just work through it and know that they will be ok. You're doing nothing wrong. It's impossible to keep your child out of every busy scenario. Do your best to keep them in a routine, and tune into what strategies work for them. As they get older, work with them to communicate how they are feeling and to let you know when they are done with their day or an activity so they can help to regulate their own experiences.

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