Is My Baby Overstimulated?

I know I’m supposed to be talking and playing with baby, but how do I know if I’m overdoing it?
ByBonnie Vengrow
Contributing Writer
February 28, 2017
Grandma holding fussy baby.

Yep, it’s important to talk to your baby, says Lisa M. Asta, MD, clinical professor of pediatrics at the University of California at San Francisco and a fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics. “Early exposure to rhymes and word play are important for language development.”

Other good stimulation for a newborn includes taking long walks together; making exaggerated facial expressions, like an extra-wide smile (sticking out your tongue is totally okay too); and simply making eye contact with her (babies are fascinated with faces). Then, you should introduce age-appropriate activities. For example, around four months, when baby’s mastering raking and grabbing, give her a rattle to shake and a teething toy to gnaw. Once she’s able to pull herself up and stand — usually around 9 to 11 months — give baby a wooden spatula and an empty pot to hit with it, which helps her develop small and gross motor skills and learn cause and effect.

But you’re right — you can totally overdo it. Sometimes baby will need breaks from all that stimulation, since it can be really overwhelming to, for example, go to the grocery store on a busy Saturday morning. “You can’t go at it the way you can when it’s just grown-ups,” she says. “It’s going to be different because of the needs of babies and the differences with their schedules. You have to be able to change courses quickly to meet your child’s needs.”

Look for signs of overstimulation. “Depending on what’s going on, they may get fussy, withdrawn or hyperactive, and an older baby may cling or hit,” Asta says. As soon as you notice those signs, it’s time for some peace and quiet.

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That includes social situations. While hanging out with your friends or extended family is low-pressure for you, being in a room full of strangers may be too much for baby at first. Before passing baby around the room, let her settle into a meet-and-greet by watching you talk to the other grown-ups for a while. You might have to cut the visit shorter than you usually do too.

Also, don’t plan something stimulating at a time she’s used to napping. A tired baby who’s also overstimulated is a basket case, so respect her schedule, keep an eye out for signs of sleepiness and follow a consistent routine at nap and bedtime. “Baby’s day has to have downtime touchstones to give that sort of time-out message, that now we’ll read a book and not do something stimulating,” Asta explains. “We’ll sing a song, pull down the shade, put you in the crib with your lovie, and now it’s time to relax.”

And forget the iPad and baby apps — they’re extremely stimulating, and doctors don’t recommend screen time for kids under three. Instead, stick with the basics, like a pot and spoon.


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