Is something wrong with my baby?

(This article is also available in an audio format)

By Marga Grey – paediatric occupational therapist. Author of Sensible Stimulation – Metz Press

There are so many things that can go “wrong” in a baby’s development. A new parent or parent-to-be might be overwhelmed. Look at babies and listen to other parents when they talk about problems with sleeping, breastfeeding, weight gain, routine, and many more. Then look at older children and note how many are attending therapy, special classes, and receive assistance at school for some issue or the other. More children are diagnosed under the autism umbrella than ever before.

However, before you panic, remember that you can identify signs of possible problems in the very young baby. This means that you can start with interventions to prevent problems and to reduce the functional affect that these issues will have on your child.

It is not necessary to panic but it is important to be educated, to identify “red flags” and to intervene as early as possible. One of the most common problems in children is sensory processing issues. These issues are often identified by the parent but if they and their advisors do not understand this, it can pass without being addressed. The usual outcome is sleep-deprived parents and distressed babies. Too many times have parents of an older child told me that they knew “something” was wrong from a very early age but that nobody could provide any help or advice that made a difference in the baby’s behaviour. Different studies indicate that anywhere from 1 in 20 to 1 in 6 children experience sensory symptoms that could affect their everyday lives.

Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD, formerly called Sensory Integration Dysfunction) is a condition when signals from the senses (touch, vision, hear, smell, taste, movement) are not processed and interpreted normally. The baby might be oversensitive to sensory signals or under responsive.

Signs to look out for in the infant which might indicate over-responsiveness to sensory signals:

  • Problems with feeding: this can include latching on the breast, a dislike of pacifiers, difficulty to handle different textures in and around the mouth
  • Problems with sleeping: difficulty to settle and to self soothe, difficulty to fall asleep, waking up without looking happy and rested
  • Difficulty to cope with caregivers other than the mother
  • Baby can easily become distressed and then takes a long time to settle
  • Baby doesn’t settle with rocking and cuddling but rather pushes away
  • Difficulty to cope with changes in environment or routines

Under-responsiveness means that the baby is not aware of sensory signals and the opposite behaviours will be noticed. This baby might be very quiet, always content but not happy and alert.

You can prevent some of these problems by providing skin to skin contact from the first moments after birth. Both parents should spend time with the baby in a relaxed mood with skin to skin contact and eye contact. Ensure optimal sensory processing and sensory motor development in the first 3 years of life, and you will save energy and money in future. Your child will also grow up into a happy, content individual with the ability to function in many different circumstances.

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