Helping Anxious Parents and Babies

By Dr Adeela Afiz

When you work with people, you work with everything that life entails. Life includes the good, the bad, the beautiful and the tragic. The situations and circumstances that we as humans can find ourselves in, and the resilience and courage that we each have is something that is never far from my thoughts.

This is because on a daily basis, the families and the stories that come through the doors of my practice are remarkable. Parents that have struggled from conceiving that finally deliver a premature baby, babies requiring major surgery and medical intervention, death of a loved one during pregnancy, the effects of major illness and loss, financial hardship, drug addiction, foster children and more. The impact of these situations can absolutely have an effect on babies as young new born in my experience. “The rise of the anxious baby” is an acknowledgement that life happens, and the effect of this spreads to every member of the family, including the smallest and even those in uetero and by acknowledging and talking about it, we can help both parents and children who are dealing with the consequences of stress in their lives.

Anxious babies are usually brought in by their parents with the concern that their baby “just seems unhappy.” They are babies who are a few weeks old right up to toddlers, whose expressions, features, and behaviour make it seem like the whole world rests on their tiny little shoulders.

I am not talking about babies and children who have a healthy range of emotions, who cry when and as needed and go through the day with the spectrum of emotions one would expect from your little bundle of joy: happy, grumpy, sleepy, hungry, windy, satisfied. These are, instead, babies who are often crying and, if not crying, are grizzly, unsettled, clingy, and appear to be in distress most if not all of the time. Often this is accompanied by physical symptoms, babies who appear to be in pain, have reflux, colic and poor digestion, or babies who are failing to thrive, appearing unhealthy or failing to put on weight.

What causes anxious babies?

As mentioned above, there is often a correlation with physical or medical issues such as silent reflux, poor digestion resulting in painful wind with each feed, or babies who do not sleep and are overtired and irritable, resulting in babies who are now anxious and upset due to the trigger or memory of pain. However, the other side of the coin that we deal with are symptoms that are created as a result of an emotional or stress response in their environment.

It may be hard to fathom that babies could have such drastic responses to stress; however, we must remember that babies and children use nonverbal communication for the first few years of life. This means that no matter what you say in front of or around your baby, what they pick up on is the energy, the environment, and the “vibes” that go on in the home environment. Babies look to how their parents are feeling as the indicator to how safe and happy they should be feeling.

…while parents do an amazing job at overcoming and continuing to do the best they can, I want them to know we can help and there is more that can be done if they feel that their highly aware and sensitive child is picking up on these environmental stresses and/or outwardly displaying signs of stress, worry and anxiety.

I have looked after babies whose mothers had highly stressful pregnancies, had marriages that have broken up while mum was pregnant, babies born in situations where a family member had just passed away or been diagnosed with a terminal illness, highly stressful family dynamics, or high levels of financial as well as emotional stress. These are all real situations into which babies are born and while parents do an amazing job at overcoming and continuing to do the best they can, I want them to know we can help and there is more that can be done if they feel that their highly aware and sensitive child is picking up on these environmental stresses and/or outwardly displaying signs of stress, worry and anxiety.

See next page to find out more about stressed babies, and what you can do…

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