Newborns are very fragile beings. They must be handled with care. Their little bones are easily injured, and we all know that their necks must be supported until they have the strength to hold them up on their own. A lot of new parents are very careful when handling their baby, and they take it very seriously. They don’t want any harm to come to their little baby. They even go as far as to try and make sure other people do not handle the baby. If they do, they better be careful because a watchful mom or dad will be close by watching.
While we know that newborns are physically fragile, we often forget that they are also mentally fragile. We take their awareness and alertness for granted and assume that they would not have much cause to be stressed. After all, they do not have the worries and problems that adults have. This is a very much naïve way of thinking, and it is possible for newborns to be stressed.
Another big problem is that newborns and infants lack the ability to speak and communicate, with words that is. They are not able to tell us when they have had too much or when they need a break. They can not reach out for help like adults can when things are just going a little rough. While they can not communicate with words, they are communicating with us in other ways. Unfortunately, it is up to mom and dad to navigate through these cues.
We have listed 10 things that happen to the baby when they are stressed, 10 signs that they will show mom and dad. We also have added 5 things that mom and dad could be doing to cause this feeling in newborns.
15 Arch That Back
Like we said, all the signs that a newborn is stressed is going to come from body language, it is important that mom and dad are aware when their baby is stressed.
One of the biggest warning signs that your baby is stressed is if they arch their back, almost like they are uncomfortable. This is not a common position for babies, and they wouldn’t normally get into this position.
If your little on is arching their back, they are uncomfortable and could be in some level of pain and it needs to be addressed right away.
Guilt is real, and it doesn’t take long or much for mom and dad to feel guilty. If they notice that their newborn is stressed there is going to be a fair share of guilt carried by the parents. They are surely going to feel like they caused it, and even if they did, it was not intentional. The majority of the time, stress is caused by factors that are unknown to parents, factors that they don’t even know they are contributing too. All mom and dad can do is learn from it and change the environment or cause of the stress.
14 “Sitting On Air”
There is a term called “sitting on air” and it is also a sign that the newborn is stressed. If the newborn is sitting on air, that means they are laying flat with their legs rigidly and perfectly straight. This causes their bottom to be off the ground.
This, again, is not a normal position for babies to be in and should be a red flag to you that something is not right. It could be due to physical discomfort, but it also could be due to stress.
A parent’s best bet when their newborn is stressed is to change the environment. We will talk about this a little later one, but stress is often due to over-stimulation. There are many factors that go into over-stimulation, which we will discuss in more detail later. The best place to take a stressed baby, is to a dark and quiet room. Let their system reset and give them a chance to calm down. You should a change in their body, they will slowly start to relax their muscles, so they won’t hold everything so rigidly and tight. If nothing a parent is doing seems to be working, it would not hurt to speak to a medical professional to rule out any other causes.
13 The “Obvious” Facial Expressions
It doesn’t take long to learn that not everything is obvious in today’s world, and this is especially true when it comes to being a parent. Not that parents lack intelligence, although it’s questionable about little to no sleep, it’s more about that fact that a parent second guesses every little thing. It is almost like we go into panic mode, trying to figure out what is wrong and usually coming to the worst possible conclusions. Sometimes, all mom or dad needs to do to figure out if a baby is stressed is look for the ‘obvious’ facial expressions.
These facial expressions include frowning and grimacing. Basically, if the newborn looks like they are in some level of pain or discomfort.
Now, I know what everyone is thinking; ‘babies make those faces for a lot of reasons.’ This is true. What a parent wants to do is rule out any of the other reasons the baby could be making these faces. Make sure the baby is fed, their diaper is dry, and they are not too cold or hot. If those are all taken care of, and the baby still looks like he/she is in pain, then they are probably feeling some stress.
12 Sneezing … And Yawning!
Here is an interesting one, and not one that people may realize has anything to do with stress. If the baby sneezes or yawns multiple times in a row. This does not mean that every time your baby sneezes that they are stressed.
What you want to look out for is multiple sneezes or yawns in a row, and we are talking about 8 – 10. Sometimes, one of the best things you can do for your baby who is just a little stressed is to get in that quiet room and have a good snuggle.
You can also do some skin to skin, it is not just beneficial in the hospital.
By doing actions to reduce the stressors in the baby’s life now, the excessive sneezing and yawning should cease, or lessen. If they do not, it may be a good idea to talk to your family doctor about it in case it is due to an actual illness. You family doctor and pediatrician can be great assets to help you navigate through the first few days, weeks and months. If you notice your newborn is going through a lot of stressful situations it is always a good idea to involve them in the conversation and work out a plan to help your little one stay relaxed.
11 Covering Their Face Is NOT A Salute!
If you are watching your baby and they suddenly give you an official military salute, you are probably thinking you have one of the politest babies in the world. Don’t be fooled, this is another sign that there is something stressing your baby out.
A lot of babies will salute or put their little hands in front of their face when they are feeling overwhelmed and stressed. Us, as adults, do this as well.
1When we are stressed, or life is just getting a little to harsh for us, we may rub our eyes or place our hands in front of our face.
One of the biggest reasons for stress is something as simple as the room being too bright. All a newborn knows and remember is their mother’s womb. It was warm, calm and dark. They are not used to bright lights, and they can find this very over-stimulating. It is always best to try and keep the lights dim. If your baby is showing signs of stress, it is very important to get them to a dark place to help them calm down and reset their system. Make their surroundings as similar to the womb as you possibly can.
10 Quick Gag Reflux
Another sign that the baby is stressed out, and a physical change you will see is if your baby seems to have a very quick gag reflux or starts spitting up a lot. This is common with babies in general, as their bodies get used to digesting food, and there may be some reflux concerns going on that are completely normal.
However, if you notice this gagging and spitting up along with another one of these cues, or if this is out of character for how the baby normally is, then it is a clear sign that the baby is stressed.
Think about when you get anxious and scared. It could be due to something scary happening, or it could even be due to something exciting. Like when you are waiting to go on a really big and fun roller coaster. You get this butterfly feeling in your stomach, and sometimes you can start to gag or ‘dry heave.’ It is our bodies natural way of reacting to stress and anxiety in our mind. Almost like a coping mechanism. Babies are not that much different than us, their little bodies work the same. They just lack the ability to verbalize what is happening to them and how we can help.
9 Won’t Look Mom In The Eyes
This one won’t really apply to really young and fresh newborns, but it will apply to newborns on the older side as well as infants. A sign of stress in young babies is if they won’t look mom or anyone in the eyes. The reason this does not apply to young newborns is because when they are that young they do not have the physical ability to look you in the eyes. It takes time for their vision to strengthen, so in the beginning they are not able to see much unless it is very near their face.
Once they have that ability, they will love to look mom, dad, or other family members in the eyes. They will study you and watch your every move, they are learning after all. If your baby does not do this, then it could be a sign that they are feeling a little bit stressed.
It may be wise to get their vision tested just to rule out any medical reasons behind this, but generally they should be looking you in the eyes. This is especially true if they display other signs and clues on this list.
8 Extend Those Limbs
Another one of the signs that a baby is feeling a little overwhelmed is if they extend their arms, legs, or both. Now, who doesn’t like a good stretch in the morning? It is a common thing that a lot of adults, children and babies do. It makes us feel good and ready to start the day. Newborns and infants love to stretch as well, especially if they are still being swaddled. As soon as that swaddle loosens, they throw their limbs out for a good stretch.
However, stretching should not happen at all hours of the day, it is normally something reserved for times when a baby is waking. It also is an event that passes pretty quickly.
If you notice your little one is extending their arms and legs and holding them out like wood planks and keeping them there, this could be a sign that the little one needs a break.
We have been discussing ways on which to help a stressed baby calm down, and it all has to do with recreating a womb-like environment. Another great thing to try is a white noise machine, or a radio station that is full of static. Most people assume babies like the quiet, but the womb was very loud with the sound of mom’s heartbeat and the blood coursing through her body. This noise may help them settle down a bit.
7 Spreading Toes
New parents spend a lot of time looking at their baby’s tiny, perfect toes and little graceful fingers. It seems to amaze everyone that our digits were ever that tiny. Yes, we often have the urge to bite them too, for whatever reason! Next time you are gazing at these little toes and tiny fingers, pay attention to how they are sitting.
If they are spread, then that is a sign that the baby is stressed. It is more a physical sign that the baby is tense, but they are tense because they are stressed.
When we get anxious, we tend to get tense all over our body, and we may not pay attention to it, but our toes and fingers also spread as they get tense. It is an automatic and normal bodily response to stress. It is how we cope. We must remember that little babies, even newborns, have the same reactions that we do. Their little toys are much smaller, but they are still the same species as us, they are mammal and they are going to have the same, if not very similar, responses that we do to environmental factors.
6 Crying … Duh!
This is probably the most obvious and confusing sign that a baby is stressed. Newborns cry a lot, that is normal, and they cry for a multitude of reasons. They cry when they are hungry, they cry when they need a diaper changed, they cry when they are tired, and they cry just when they need a cuddle.
It is their only way of communicating with mom and dad, the only way they have of letting them know that something is wrong. Excessive crying can also be a symptom of colic.
Colic is reflux, and it makes a little baby very uncomfortable, so they tend to have periods of uncontrollable crying sometimes lasting for hours every day.
This is what makes this sign of stress so confusing, because how are parents supposed to know that the crying is due to stress or over stimulation? The easiest way to tell is to watch if the crying is accompanied by any of the other symptoms than it is for sure due to stress. Another way to tell is if all the other reasons for crying have been ruled out than you can say for certainty that the crying is due to stress.
5 Caused By: Over Stimulation
Now that we know all the signs and clues to a baby being stressed, I want to talk a bit about what can cause it. These are all common mistakes that parents make, and the word mistake literally means that it is unintentional. There is no reason for mom or dad to feel guilty if they have done one or two of these things, it is all part of learning as a parent and growing. The biggest reason for newborns to be stressed is over-stimulation.
Before a newborn has arrived into the world, they are used to one environment; the womb. The womb is a dark place, that is always the perfect temperature for the little ones. It is also pretty loud in there, there are the sounds of the mother’s heart and her body working pumping blood through all her veins and arteries.
When a baby is born, they are thrust into a bright place, that feels cold to them and it can be very quiet. This can over-stimulate them and put them in a place of anxiety and stress.
Mom and dad want to recreate the womb-like environment as much as possible, such as dim the lights, swaddle them and play some white noise.
4 Caused By: Emotions Of Other People
Being a new parent is hard work, there is a lot to do and a woman’s body is trying to recover. Her body is trying to recover not only physically, but emotionally as well. The hormones are trying to return to normal and this can produce what is known as the ‘baby blues’ which can have a new mom crying over nothing (literally). Then there is the more serious condition; post partum depression that needs to be addressed with a medical professional as soon as possible. Even just being sleep deprived can play with a mom’s emotions and make her a little short tempered and sad.
Babies, even newborns, are more observant than we give them credit for, and the emotional well-being of the people around them, especially their mother, can have a large impact on them.
Newborns want to be around happy people, those who have a good tone to their voice and always seem to be laughing and smiling. This is not realistic for anyone to live every single day, but if there are more sad days than happy ones, it can definitely cause some stress in their babies, and then it can become a vicious cycle where a stressed mom makes her baby stressed, making the baby cry more, making mom more stressed.
3 Caused By: Where Is Mom?
The baby may know the mother’s womb very well, but that also means that they know mom very well. Sorry dads, but that newborn is going to come out preferring mom over you for a little bit. There is a special attachment and bond that a baby feels with their mother because of all the time they have spent bonding over the last 9 months. If a mother is breastfeeding, this bond will only be even stronger. The baby will know mom’s smell and will know her just by the way she holds them.
When mom goes away, this can cause a large amount of stress in newborns. This can make dads feel a little sad, because it normally happens when mom is having a night out.
Mom’s need to get out, it is never too early, and it is something she should not feel guilty about. If anything, going out once in a while will help mom’s mental health, and help her feel like she is still part of a community and is still more than ‘just a mom.’ A tip for dad to help him get through if his baby is a little stressed from having mom so far, is to have a piece of mom’s clothing nearby that she has worn. The smell should help soothe a small baby until mom has arrived back home.
2 Caused By: Environmental Factors
There are times when a baby is stressed because of their environment. A lot of it has to do with what we talked about previously; the conditions of the womb. It is easy for parents to miss this one, because we don’t realize how harsh everything is for a little, new baby. Imagine if you were locked in a dark room for 9 months, no lights at all throughout that whole time, and someone came in and turned all the lights on. It would be uncomfortable and even painful. That is what it is like for a new baby.
Imagine you have lived in the Caribbean your whole life, and you have only known the warm tropical climate, and then you moved to Antarctica, it would be a shock to your system. You would be uncomfortable, and you may even get sick from the change in temperature. These are all how the little baby feels.
If you are pregnant, you are going to want to make sure that you do your research and stock up on items that make it easier to recreate the womb.
Swaddling is a key tool that can help a lot. The baby was used to feeling all curled up, and while we may think they were uncomfortable, they are more uncomfortable with their limbs free and jerking around.
1 Caused By: Being Ignored
Unfortunately, there are also situations where the baby’s stress is caused to being treated poorly. If they are being ignored, it can have a huge impact on their wellbeing. We mentioned earlier that newborn babies don’t need much when they are born, but what they do need is important. They need to be fed, they need to have their diaper changed, they need to sleep, and they also need to be loved. They need the cuddles and the closeness that only a parent can give them, and when they don’t get this, it can send their body into stress-mode.
This is not always done intentionally. If mom has older children who need attention, she can ignore her baby without even realizing it.
It also can happen do to some depression or other mental health issues that mom is dealing with. If this is the situation, what mom really needs is help. She needs someone to help her take care of her older children, or she needs medical help to get the depression under control. The problem is that moms are the worst when it comes to asking for help. They don’t want to admit that they can not handle it, so they don’t reach out. Don’t do this, get the help, everyone needs it sometimes!