From our latest Newborn 101 Forum – Your Questions Answered
We’re all practicing social distancing and paying close attention to not only our own physical health but also to the health of everyone in our community. People are online flooding the internet with search results for the best vitamins, foods, and activities to boost the immune system. Keeping a robust immune system is of utmost importance during these times.
It’s important to remember that the toll of stress can have a significant impact on the immune system. The COVID shutdown has created stress among many families but especially vulnerable are those with young children or new babies at home.
Friday’s discussion was a reminder that children (even very young babies) can become stressed by picking up on negative parental emotions. Stressed children may not be able to verbalize their feelings but you may begin to notice increased irritability, sleep regressions or even feeding issues start to develop.
Stress Buster Tool Box for Parents
- Practicing mindfulness
- Getting out in nature
- Limit TV watching/ exposure to negative information
- Stay positive
- Practice having gratitude
- Don’t fight with partner (especially not in front of children)
Managing Stress in Children
- Offer lots of physical affection. Research has proven that nurturing touch appears to protect babies from harmful stress. It also triggers the release of several stress-busting chemicals in the brain, including oxytocin (the so-called “love hormone”). In experiments on newborns, infants showed a drop in cortisol levels when they were stroked by a caregiver who rocked them, made eye contact, and spoke soothingly.
- Become an “emotionally available” parent. Think about it… a baby is vulnerable, dependent, immobilized, and unable to communicate with language? The better you understand your baby’s feelings, the better your chances of minimizing stress. Try to tune in and understand your baby’s needs.
- Don’t underestimate your baby’s ability to read — and mirror — your negative emotions. When you’re distracted, upset, or depressed, you might think your baby doesn’t notice. But research suggests otherwise. Studies show that babies – even newborns — get distressed when their caregivers become emotionally unresponsive. So early on, babies are sensitive to our emotional cues. What’s more, babies can sense when we’re stressed-out — and this tends to make them feel stressed-out too (e.g., Waters et al 2014; Waters et al 2017).
- Engage your baby in one-on-one communication. Like physical affection, friendly talk and sympathetic body language can trigger our brains to release “feel good” chemicals, like oxytocin.
Moreover, studies reveal that babies benefit when we treat them as conversation partners–acknowledging their feelings, responding to their implied questions, and offering them support when they are distressed.
- If You Have Older Children: Be aware of your conversations. Example: Instead of saying “You are ‘stuck at home’ you are ‘safe at home’. A five-year-old doesn’t know how to handle their parents being a ‘hot mess’. Children can’t speak up to say, “could you calm down”.
The takeaway lesson is that your own moods matter. Let’s use this time wisely and learn how to take control of our own emotions. Create a happy home environment and try to keep a positive perspective. My favorite quote by the late Wayne Dwyer: “When we change the way we look at things, the things we look at change”.