Why You Should Pay Attention to your Baby's Stress Levels
It may seem strange to think a newborn baby could have much to stress about. After all, he doesn’t have to worry about work or money or his personal life. But it’s true — stress can affect a baby’s sleeping and other habits. Knowing how to recognize it and how to soothe your baby when he’s showing signs of anxiety is important.
A stressful environment can affect how your baby feels, and he might begin to show signs that he is in distress. When stress becomes a regular feeling for a baby, or when he is exposed regularly to high levels of the hormone cortisol, it can have long-term negative health effects, including behavioral issues and stress-related illnesses. It’s also possible that high-stress levels could alter your baby's brain development.
Recognizing Your Baby's Stress Signals
Since your baby can’t use his words to tell you when he’s feeling anxious, you have to look for other clues to indicate when you need to soothe him. Keep an eye out for the following behavioral changes.
- Lots of crying. It’s no secret that newborns cry a lot, but if you can tell your baby is crying more frequently than you’re used to or is more inconsolable, this may be a sign that something is off.
- Changes in eating habits. Babies who are experiencing stress may have altered eating patterns, like overeating or loss of appetite. This could also lead to digestion problems. Keep track of how your baby is eating and how her tummy reacts.
- Less eye contact. If your baby seems to be avoiding meeting your gaze, he may be experiencing stress.
These changes could also indicate other health problems, so keep in contact with your newborn's doctor about any signs of a change in your baby’s mood and behavior.
What Causes Baby's Stress?
Your baby responds to his environment and you - his parent! So if he is exposed to a stressful environment, he will show signs of stress. Similarly, your baby will react to your emotional changes, as well as the emotional changes in other caregivers.
Everyone knows that managing your stress as an adult is challenging, especially with a newborn around, but your stress levels can affect your little one’s stress level too. The more you stress, the more likely it is for your baby to stress.
Other causes for baby’s stress include:
- Physical discomfort or illness
- Separation from a parent or guardian
- Lack of attention
- Loud and/or new noises and sounds
How to Prevent Baby's Stress
Research has shown that babies whose parents react quickly to their baby’s needs and give plenty of physical affection are less likely to have high levels of stress hormones.
Be affectionate. This is probably a no-brainer, but one of the best ways to keep your baby stress-free is to cuddle and love on her.
Pay attention to your newborn during feeding times. Make lots of eye contact when he’s in your arms.
Try to keep your stress away from your baby. As we already know, your emotional changes as the caregiver can affect your baby’s stress levels. If you can, avoid exposing your anxiety to your newborn.
Respond quickly when your baby is upset. Don’t leave him alone when he is showing signs of stress.
Be playful. Play games and talk and laugh with your baby.
How to Soothe Baby's Stress
The best ways to soothe your baby when he’s showing signs of stress are holding him and trying to give him what he might need. A few good tips include:
- Swaddling your baby
- Playing comforting music
- Walking around while holding your baby
- Giving your baby a gentle massage
- Changing your baby’s diaper
- Giving him a bottle or pacifier
Make sure your baby is not overstimulated. A new place with new sights and sounds can make your newborn a little nervous. Pick her up for some skin-to-skin contact to calm her down.
Understanding Baby's Bedtime Stress
Sleep is so important for newborns and parents alike. Since newborns can have unpredictable sleeping habits, soothing your baby’s end-of-the-day stress can ensure he will sleep more soundly.
The best way to keep your baby's bedtime routine as stress-free as possible is to be emotionally available to your baby. A research study published by the National Institutes of Health shows that moms who were rated as highly emotionally available have babies with low nighttime cortisol levels.
Even better, those babies were more likely to sleep longer during the night.
What does it mean to be "emotionally available?" It means using a bedtime routine that is quiet and soothing to your baby, not interacting with him as he is falling asleep and not disturbing him once he is asleep. Also, of course, responding quickly when your baby cries at night is part of emotional availability.
Moms Share Their Stress Soothing Tips
“We always used the Johnson and Johnson purple soap and lotion as well as a warm bath and then a massage before bed every night. Finished with a bottle, and some snuggles, then in bed sleepy, but awake. At eight weeks when swaddling has to stop, we switched to the Merlin Sleepsuit and then at five-and-a-half months when we sleep trained, we switched to a Zipadee Zip. My son, now two, still uses the zippy, but it’s safe sleep while in the crib.” –Abby Chambers
“I dim the lights, change him, and add a drop of bedtime oil to his humidifier. I usually have him latch at night because it’s the most comforting to him to fall asleep.” –Thaylen Riley
“My baby likes a warm bath, playing a little, warm bottle with cereal and rocking.” –Amanda Dickerson
“After bath time, we do a warm bottle and some music or ocean sounds. He relaxes right away.” –Lauren Renner