How To Support Your Dysregulated Baby

Crying baby

How to Help A Crying Baby


Babies enter our world and are asked to do everything for the first time. Their nervous system, muscles, and body as a whole grow and develop rapidly and in a nonlinear way. Every baby goes through regressions and leaps forward. Babies have such consistent patterns they have been termed the wonder weeks. As parents, we wear all the hats when it comes to support. Recognizing when a baby is headed for dysregulation, supporting them through, and recognizing when to challenge them are all unique skills. I believe everyone has strengths in some but usually not all of these areas. That is where I hope to offer support.

Recognize Dysregulation

Dysregulation in babies takes many forms. Signs of dysregulation come in the forms of whole body, movement, behavior, and changes in interaction.

  • Body Dysregulation
    • Low heart rate
    • Irregular breathing
    • Nasal flaring
    • Pale or flushing body
    • Being upset after spitting up or pooping
  • Motor dysregulation
    • Reduced movement or tightness,
    • Arching or bringing arms away from the body
    • Tremoring of jaw or limbs,
    • Pulling away are all signs
  • Behaviors of dysregulation
    • Rapid transitions
    • Lacking alertness
    • Falling asleep during eating
  • Attention Dysregulation
    • Not reacting to new stimuli
    • Being at the mercy of stimuli vs reactive and attentive

How To Support A Dysregulated Baby

Every baby is unique when it comes to support. Understanding what that support looks like starts with understanding how your baby responds to stimuli. Answering these 3 questions will give you a better understanding: does your baby react quickly to stimulus, do they have an exaggerated response, and how long do they take to calm to a restful state with or without soothing? The answer to these three questions will determine the support your baby most likely prefers and will benefit most from.

If your baby reacts very quickly, has exaggerated responses, or takes a long time to calm down they will most likely benefit from low stimulus interventions. Low stimulus interventions include rocking/swaying, broad touch, massage away from the heart, and slow transitions.

  • Rocking is a great way to support your baby. Separate the bounce from the rock as they can often go together. A rock is considered forward to backward motion.
  • Swaying is a side-to-side rock. Some babies prefer side to side while others find it more stimulating.
  • Broad touch is important. Increased contact can feel more contained. When attempting to soothe a baby increased contact can help relax them
  • Massage away from the heart is considered relaxing but should not be done in an attempt to relax a distressed infant. Its use is better for helping limit a baby’s elevated response.
  • Slow transitions are important for babies who react quickly and intensely. Slowing the transition can help reduce the overall peak response.

High stimulus interventions include patting, bouncing, massage toward the heart, and rapid changes.

  • Patting is stimulating due to it being an off/on movement; greater vigor results in greater stimulus to a baby’s system.
  • Bouncing is stimulating because it involves the drop movement which can cause a baby increased stimulus
  • Rapid changes are disruptive but can also cause an elevated nervous system response.

All babies respond differently to different stimuli. It’s important to understand your baby and they respond as an individual. Using multiple low or high can help you determine what type of mix they respond best to. For a baby low stimulus followed by high stimulus can prevent them from finding regulation.

Learning When To Challenge Your Baby

There is a time to challenge a baby. This is a sweet spot unique to your baby. When it comes to determining your baby’s sweet spot you have to answer a single question: does your baby look bright and engaged? A baby should not be crying nor should they be asleep or groggy. This is the ideal time to challenge your baby with tummy time, stretches, or other new skills. If your baby does not have a moment to challenge they need support in these areas. They are not ready for a challenge. Easing them into positions and spending a short amount of time is the best way to support them.

Tying It All Together

There is not a one size fits all approach to supporting your baby. Just as adults are unique, babies are as well. Learning how to recognize when your baby is headed to dysregulation allows you to experiment with the best type of intervention. There are patterns you can use for low vs high-sensitivity babies. With this starting point, you can be more rapidly responsive and learn your baby’s communication. This allows you to be proactive instead of reactive. With this power, you help establish a firm attachment and trust between you and your baby. This is a parent’s unique superpower.