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Premature Infant: Signs of Overstimulation

Topic Overview

Premature infants are born before the nervous system is mature enough to handle outside stimuli without becoming overstimulated. Your baby will need to sleep most of the time and will not interact a lot with you at first. But your presence is important to your baby. When you are with your baby, keep your voice low and keep outside noise and light to a minimum.

If your premature infant is overstimulated, you may notice physical reactions in the presence of too much sound, touch, movement, or light, including:

  • A drop in blood oxygen levels (oxygen desaturation).
  • A drop in heart rate (bradycardia).
  • A rapid heart rate (tachycardia).
  • Looking away from you when you speak or make eye contact, a more subtle sign of overstimulation.
  • Twisting, arching, or scowling.

If you see such signs, give your infant some peace and quiet. The next time you're together, try only one stimulus at a time (such as touch or voice, but not both).

Look for signs that your baby is relaxed and ready to interact with you, such as:

  • Eyes open and engaged.
  • Relaxed face, mouth, fingers, and toes.
  • Normal color.
  • Regular breathing.

Related Information

Credits

By Healthwise Staff
Sarah Marshall, MD - Family Medicine
Kimberly Dow, MD, FRCPC - Neonatology
Last Revised March 22, 2013

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