Stress In Babies – Why It’s Dangerous And How To Prevent It

Stress In Babies – Why It’s Dangerous And How To Prevent It

Babies have it easy, right? All they do is eat and sleep. How could they possibly be stressed?

If we take a moment to put ourselves in their position, we realise it may not be quite as stress free as we initially thought.

A baby is at the mercy of her caregivers. She cannot feed herself. She’s unable to move herself. Her immaturity doesn’t allow her to soothe or settle herself.

Stress In Babies – Why It’s Dangerous And How To Prevent It

She’s also dealing with deep-rooted survival instincts. Ones that mean she feels safe and secure when close to a caregiver, and stress and fear when she isn’t.

We know baby is safe in her bassinet. Baby, however, doesn’t know this is safe. All she knows is her inner alarms are warning her of potential predator danger.

What Can Cause Stress In Babies?

A baby is learning so many things. She’s learning how to adjust to life outside the womb. Her brain is growing and developing rapidly. She’s slowly learning emotional regulation and her hormones are ever adjusting and sensitive.

Being scared, hungry, or alone can trigger a stress response in infants. Being overtired and not getting help to settle can trigger stress.

Despite what we might think, a stressed baby doesn’t always keep crying. When a young baby is left alone crying, and then they suddenly become silent, we assume they’ve settled themselves.

In reality, they’ve more or less shut down to conserve their energy while stress hormones continue to flow.

It’s important to note that crying in and of itself doesn’t equal stress. Crying in a caregiver’s arms, being put down briefly while a care provider takes a moment to collect themselves, or crying while a mother gets ready to feed isn’t what triggers stress.

Crying is a baby’s way to communicate. When they begin to cry or fuss, they’re letting you know they need something. Don’t stress yourself thinking any crying is harmful, remember that this is how they communicate.

When you talk to your partner, you’re not inherently stressed. However, if your partner refuses to listen, then it likely causes stress.

Why Is Stress Dangerous For Babies?

We hear often about adults and stress. We know it can impact our entire body, from our mental health to our waistline and everything in between.

Just like adults, stress can impact babies. Stress can be particularly dangerous for babies because it impacts their brain development, their growth, and even their future emotional regulation.

Cortisol, a stress hormone, can interfere with growth and brain development. Frequent prolonged stress in infancy can have lifelong effects.

Remember, this is prolonged stress. This isn’t a ride in the car where baby is unhappy, nor is it crying while being rocked by mother.

How Can I Prevent Stress In My Baby?

One of the most important things we can do to help our children have lower stress is by creating a secure bond.

One study found that 40% of American children lack a secure bond. Hearing such high numbers can be intimidating. Is it possible to prevent stress and create a secure bond?

Yes, it is!

While every child has a unique temperament, there are many things we as parents can do to prevent stress in our babies.

Help create a secure bond and prevent stress by:

  • Giving nurturing touches
  • Breastfeeding, or “bottle nursing” with attention and focus
  • Answering your baby’s cries
  • Following your baby’s cues – even the most nurturing of touches can be stressful if they’re not desired by baby
  • Practicing babywearing
  • Gentle sleep support and nighttime parenting
  • Watching for signs of overstimulation and adjust baby’s environment or activity as needed
  • Being conscious of your own moods and how it could affect the care you give – if you’re stressed, find ways to help de-stress.

Why Is It Important To Keep Baby From Being Stressed?

A baby’s environment and experiences in the first year of life have a profound impact on their future. By meeting their needs now, we’re helping them feel secure in this big world.

When a child is able to develop healthy emotional regulation, it will help them to be more stress resilient later in life.

There are likely many overstressed adults who would be emotionally and physically healthier if teaching and modelling stress coping skills was encouraged as much as teaching the alphabet.

Perhaps you’ve been told you could spoil your baby or that they might never learn to be independent if you meet their every cry? While this belief continues to persist, based on evidence, it’s simply a myth. A perhaps even a dangerous myth.

Be sure to read Does My Baby Need To Learn To Self Soothe? for more information about babies, stress and independence.

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Maria Silver Pyanov is a mama of four energetic boys and one unique little girl. She is also a doula and childbirth educator. She's an advocate for birth options, and adequate prenatal care and support. She believes in the importance of rebuilding the village so no parent feels unsupported.

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