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Is Baby Stressed? How to Tell & What to Do

Alison Wood |15, July 2013


Even though an infant's days are less than vigorous or emotionally draining, he can become overwhelmed and stressed quickly. While others may mistake your baby for being hungry or cold, many times your baby is actually over stimulated and stressed. The last thing he or she needs is a toy or silly song to soothe his troubles. Instead he needs a calm and cool environment to mellow out in—just like you!

  • Agitation
  • Crying
  • Restless
  • Twitching
  • Arching of the back
  • Droopy eyelids
  • Grimaces
  • A worried look
  • Tightly fisted hands
  • Hiccups
  • Avoiding eye contact

These are not symptoms of a cold or virus. Instead, they are signs of something that adults deal with often, but seem to forget that babies deal with it too. It's called stress.

One study, published in the 2008 September-October issue of the journal Child Development, suggests that some babies have a higher tendency to become agitated due to the formation of a certain receptor gene called dopamime. Adults and babies that carry this gene tend to have difficulties with risky behavior and aggression. However, parents can fight this gene with loving, involved and tender parenting especially during the first year of life.

Researchers carefully monitored and analyzed data from the first year of 142 infant's lives, specifically at 3, 6 and 12 months of age. During the study, each of the 142 babies was placed in a stressful situation. The babies' responses were noted and used for further evaluation. Stress responses, such as increased heart rates, were recorded as well. Cardiac responses in adults and babies can help researchers monitor levels of stress. The results were a wake-up call for some moms. Older babies, ages 6-12 months, were able to overcome the irrational and agitated behavior associated with a certain form of the dopamime gene if they were nurtured and raised in a sensitive and caring environment.

The study's lead author, Cathi Propper, PhD says: "Infancy is an important time for developing behavioral and biological processes. Although these processes will continue to change over time, parenting can have important positive effects even when children have inherited a genetic vulnerability to problematic behaviors."

She continued to say, "Our findings provide further support for the notion that the development of complex behavioral and physiological responses is not the result of nature or nurture, but rather a combination of the two. They also illustrate the importance of parenting not just for the development of children's behavior, but for the underlying physiological mechanisms that support this behavior."

Sometimes a baby that seems to be stressed out quite frequently could indeed be a carrier of this form of gene. However, you can help your baby through these stressful times, dopamime gene or not.

What can you do to lower your baby's stress level?

Avoid stressful situations.
For the most part, it is best to keep babies away from loud, noisy and crowded areas. Babies under 12 months of age do not have much appreciation for theme parks, malls or fireworks. However, give them a few years and they can enjoy the fun alongside of you. But, for now, they prefer their home environment over everything else.

Provide a place of security.
Babies who switch from caregiver to caregiver can become agitated and restless. If a baby spends Mondays and Tuesdays at grandma's house, then the rest of the work week at the day care and only weekends with mom and dad, a lot of confusion and insecurity can result. Instead, choose a permanent place during the week. That way your baby has the same bed to sleep in fro naps, the same highchair to enjoy his meals, the same carpeted floor to crawl on and the same loving hands to offer reassurance during sick or scary days. Choosing a primary caregiver can make a positive difference in your baby's disposition.

Keep your home calm and serene.
Most people become agitated and stressed if someone yells, and yes, even a baby can become stressed. Encourage your family and visitors to keep their voices at a calm level throughout the day. If there are heated disagreements, suggest people dealing with them outside of the house. Your baby's security is an important part of their psychological development.

Keep cool.
Babies can become stressed if their parents are stressed. When parents become stressed, they tend to talk and interact less with their children and little ones. Sometimes they even become snappier as they focus on their own conflicts that do not involve the baby or children. Choose today to stay calm and love your little one, no matter uncertainties lie in your future.

Is it really that important that baby does not become stressed?

More than most parents realize, sustained stress, sometimes referred to as "toxic stress" can affect how a child's brain develops. Here are some ways that large quantities of stress over a long period time can affect your baby:

Babies grow up to become children that are unable to deal with low amounts of stress.
Chronic health problems can result from high levels of stress hormones that are being released throughout the body.
Memory and learning can become impaired from higher sustained levels of stress hormones.

Keep your baby's body, mind and soul healthy through love, healthy food and lots of interaction. You are making a difference!

Sources: WebMD, PsychCentral

Alison Wood is a stay-at-home mom of six and freelance writer and blogger. She enjoys raising her six children and desires to share her experiences to help other mothers.

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