Signs of overstimulation in premature infants

Extremely premature infants are born before the nervous system is mature enough to handle outside stimuli without becoming overstimulated. Such an infant is said to have a disorganized nervous system.

If your premature infant has a disorganized nervous system, you may notice physical reactions (destabilization) 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.

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).

Last Updated: May 5, 2009

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