Parenting stress is contagious and it’s important to prevent your baby from feeling stressed too. Toxic stress in babies is a predictor of behavioral issues, or even worse, it can negatively impact cognitive function and brain growth. Here are tips to reduce stress in babies:
Physical affection is good… for the most part
Physical touch stimulates our brains to release ‘feel-good’ chemicals (oxytocin and endogenous opioids) that relieve stress by lowering cortisol and make us feel loved. However, physical touch isn’t a silver bullet; every baby responds differently depending on the context and temperament.
Here are some things to take note of:
- Are they being soothed by their primary caregiver?
- When initiating contact, what is your body language like?
- Does your baby feel over-stimulated at the moment?
When soothing/stroking your baby, make sure you’re making eye contact, rocking gently, and speaking in a soothing tone. This will help your baby feel as comfortable (and stress-free!) as possible.
Babies read and model negative behavior
Babies are pretty good mind readers! If you’re feeling sad, distracted, anxious, or any way really, they’ll pick up on it, and mirror it. Very early on, babies are emotionally sensitive and can distinguish between happy and sad body language. Put simply, if you’re acting stressed, your baby will most likely be too.
Engage in quality conversations
Spending face-to-face time talking to your baby can also trigger ‘feel good’ chemicals like oxytocin. In doing so, make sure that you’re practicing active listening to help your baby develop a secure attachment and understand negative emotions. Just like physical affection, these conversations can sometimes be too much for your baby. Look out for signs of disinterest like covering their face, or fussing.
Lastly, be emotionally available at bedtime
Even in babies who are trained to sleep separately, co-sleeping with your baby can reduce stress at bedtime. In an experiment, called the “Strange Situation,” researchers found that babies who had slept with their parents had lower cortisol reactivity. Put simply, lower cortisol reactivity means babies are less easily stressed.