Perfectly styled photos of a calm and tranquil baby are generally what we see on Instagram, rarely the real messes, tantrums, crying from upset tummies and general upset. Even before our babies are born daydreams of about life with our baby are usually filled with the warm and happy moments. But sometimes, the “perfect” picture isn’t real life.
Just like adults, babies occasionally have upset tummies, are over stimulated, are over tired, or are irritable, fussy, clingy, or just plain cranky. Maybe they didn’t sleep well, are going through a growth spurt, or are teething.
Going from a dark, snug place inside mommy where the sound of her voice and heartbeat were comforting, and her gentle movement and walking lulled Baby to sleep to out in a very noisy world with bright lights, lots of sound, movement and people can be jarring. Everything is new to babies.
At birth, the human brain, though it has all the brain cells it will have for the rest of its life (around 100 billion), is not fully developed. In the early years, those brain cells are making connections at an incredible rate, at least one million new neural connections every second. These early connections enable young children to control their bodies and learn more about the world around them every day. By age 3, the brain is 90% full grown. (1)
The enormous amount of intake can be overwhelming and overstimulating for babies. Toddlers or young children also can suffer especially after a long day of more than usual activities or preschool.
Common Signs of Overstimulation
Everyone’s child will react differently, but some of the most common signs of overstimulation in babies are:
- Turning their head away from you
- Crying louder than usual
- Wanting to be held
- Wanting to nurse more frequently
- Being fussy or irritable
- Clenching fists and waving arms and legs
- Frantic or jerky movement
- Skin color changes
- Acting very sleepy
- Having temper tantrums
- Acting scared
Signs of being overtired or overstimulated in toddlers and children are:
- Acting out
- Refusing to listen
- Crying with no explanation
- Throwing themselves on the ground in anger
- Showing anger, aggressive behavior, or grumpiness
Causes of Overstimulation
There are many causes of overstimulation in both babies and toddlers that sometimes are overlooked due to our busy schedule.
- Disruption in routine – Babies are creatures of habit and a change or disruption in a normal routine can throw them off a bit.
- Missing a nap, not sleeping well, or going to bed too late - Babies and children need much more sleep than adults. Not getting enough sleep can quickly lead to becoming overly tired, overwhelmed and ultimately meltdowns.
- Temperature - Being too cold or too warm can cause overstimulation and upset.
- More activity than usual – Things like extra-long excursions, different or highly stimulating activities like birthday parties and crowded park days can be a cause.
- More people than usual - Some babies or toddlers are super outgoing and enjoy the constant new faces. Others can quickly become overwhelmed by new faces and crowds.
- Excessive screen time - The best learning happens through natural play. Bright flashing lights, colors, and sounds can all be overstimulating to the brain but it is not enough stimulation or movement for the rest of the body, resulting in meltdowns and/or restlessness.
- Teething - The temporary irritation can make babies less tolerant of stimulation.
Not knowing how to properly deal with these situations can leave us feeling hopeless, frustrated, and out of control. Let’s look at some helpful ways to approach these situations and how to calm a fussy baby.
We first must remember that if we ourselves are stressed, chaotic, and not approaching the situation from a state of calm that our baby or child can draw on, not much will help. So, take a deep breath, center yourself, release the pent-up stress then tackle the situation.
- Recreating an atmosphere most like what they were used to in the womb is the #1 help tip.
- Wrapping up your baby in a swaddle to help them feel secure can be calming to a fussy baby
- Moving to a room with little to no noise and dim light
- Rocking your baby in a rocking chair can help soothe him/her
- Gentle swaying while holding your baby close in your arms
- Softly singing or talking to your baby can help him/her stop crying
- Skin to skin contact can help regulate their heartbeat and bring them back to a calm state
- Nursing your baby
Calming Toddlers and Young Children
- Having quiet down time to decompress
- Taking a warm bath - water always works wonders!
- Turning off music or removing or moving away from the source noise
- Dimming lights
- Reading books
- Playing with a nonelectric toy
- Sensory play - (encouraging my kids to play in the dirt or mud is my favorite)
One Long Term Suggestion:
Limiting Screen Time - less screen time and more unstructured and outdoor play helps create more naturally calm and balanced children
There is Also Baby Calm Balm
Baby Calm Balm was created to offer a little extra support for helping in those situations.
The herbs included in the Baby Calm Balm were thoughtfully researched and carefully chosen for their gentle calming effects on the nervous system.
Babies are much more sensitive to what is put on their skin than adults are, and the Baby Calm Balm was formulated with that in mind. Baby Calm Balm probably won’t do much for an adult if we massage it onto our tummy when we are irritable and fussy but will definitely have a desired effect on a baby or toddler.
The Herbs Used in Baby Calm Balm
So, what are the amazing herbs that were included in Baby Calm Balm?
Many of the herbs used are nervines and gentle sedatives.
What is a nervine? A nervine is an herb that has a positive effect on the nervous system.
What is a sedative? Plant compounds that are calming and reduce anxiety.
The list is thorough, and each herb included holds in it a combination of properties that present a positive effect on the nervous system.
Lemon Balm - (Sweet Melissa) – Is as lovely as it sounds. Lemon Balm is a beautiful low growing plant in the mint family and is known for being uplifting. It is a nervine and gentle sedative making it perfect for insomnia, anxiety, stress, and restlessness.
Lavender Flowers - Even though they are generally known as promoting relaxation, they are also somewhat stimulating in that it helps to release pent up emotions. It is also a gentle sedative and helps in alleviating stress, anxiety, and insomnia.
Passionflower - Or Passiflora (I think her scientific name is so pretty and truly embraces the flower’s beauty) - Is a nervine, hypotensive (helps to lower blood pressure which can be higher when stress and anxiety are present), and pretty commonly used for help with insomnia, stress, pain, anxiety. It also helps to promote sound sleep.
This is one of my favorite herbs for internal use with my children as it is very safe and gentle.
Ashwaghanda Root - The species name (somnifera) refers to traditional use in helping treat sleep issues. It is very helpful with insomnia. It is very calming, or stimulating, depending on the herbs it is combined with.
Catnip - Usually recognized because of the love cats have for it!! Though it sounds funny to some to use it for babies, it has an opposite effect on humans than cats. It has a gentle sedative effect on the nervous system and can help with insomnia. It also helps with pain and restlessness.
For internal uses, catnip has been used for centuries and one of those uses is in a tea with equal parts chamomile and lemon balm for overexcitement, emotional upheaval and to help with headaches, tummy aches, colic, and sleeplessness in children.
Roman Chamomile - Has naturally soothing effects and is traditionally and commonly used to help calm a fussy baby
Sweet Marjoram - Is high in antioxidants and helps with pain from headaches, earaches, and teething as well as having light sedative qualities.
How to Use Baby Calm Balm
Applying Baby Calm Balm on a baby whose environment has not yet been modified to support what is needed probably won’t get you very far. I liken it to slapping a bandage and an ointment on a cut without first properly cleaning the cut and stopping the bleeding. First, you need to add the necessary improvements or remove the problems that caused the overstimulation or upset to begin with.
Once your baby is in better conditions (after a bath, in a quiet, dimly lit room, and not in a panic, tantrum, crying, overwhelmed state), you can massage the Baby Calm Balm into the bottom of his/her feet or into his/her tummy.
If the fussiness and irritation is caused by teething or ear pain, you can also massage the Baby Calm Balm into the jaw line and below the ears down the neck.
For general, everyday use, you can use it before bedtime to help with relaxation and promoting a restful sleep.
Herbal Tea Recipe for Toddlers & Young Children
In addition to Baby Calm Balm, I also have made and still make tea for my children and toddlers to help promote a calm state of being or to help them relax before bed.
Small children need much less volume of herbs than adults do, so where we would use 1 teaspoon of herb per cup, we would lessen it to around 1/4 teaspoon per cup for children. If they find it unpalatable (mine are used to herbs, but not all children are), you can add a bit of honey to sweeten it.
A lovely blend Passionflower (Passiflora), Lemon Balm (Sweet Melissa), and Chamomile (Matricaria recutita) can be brewed into a gentle, calming, sleep promoting infusion before bedtime.
How to Make an Herbal Infusion
- Bring 1 cup of water to boil
- Pour over prepared herbs (in this case equal parts Passionflower, Lemon Balm, and Chamomile)
- Cover with a lid to hold in the essential oils of the plants
- Let sit for 20 minutes before straining out the herbs
After 20 minutes, the water will probably have cooled enough for children, but if not, you can add an ice cube or two.
Something to Remember..
A lovely quote I like to refer to on hard days is
“When little people are overwhelmed by big emotions, it’s our job to share our calm, not join their chaos” by L. R. Knost.
Our biggest tool in helping our children learn to self-regulate is by showing them how and not adding our mixed, uncontrolled emotions to the mix and by validating their emotions.
Some days will be difficult, others will be heaven.
Take a deep breath on those hard days and remember that this too shall pass. Life is beautiful and working through those times with your baby
and children is worth every single minute.
1 Brain Development (firstthingsfirst.org)