Motor Restlessness - part 2 of 3

Written by Maria Dior Duegaard Amdahl, owner of Baby Akademiet, May 2024

Motor restlessness: Causes

Motor restlessness in babies can be caused by various factors - biological and environmental. Biologically, it may be related to the baby's nervous system and maturity. Some babies have a higher level of energy from birth and react more intensely to stimuli. They seek stimulatory input to a greater extent e.g. by kicking their feet against the floor/mattress or by tossing and turning in bed. The brain is constantly developing, and therefore, the experience of motor restlessness can vary from baby to baby. It may occur while your baby is learning something new about his/her body, or due to the natural development of the brain. This can result in difficulty in settling down or sleeping. Environmental factors may include overstimulation, which occurs when a baby is exposed to excessive noise, light, or activity. This can be overwhelming, causing restlessness and manifesting physically in the body as trembling or what may appear to be uncontrollable movements of the arms and legs.

Sleep patterns play a crucial role. Infants with irregular sleep routines or experiencing sleep disturbances may be more prone to motor restlessness. Additionally, sensory processing, i.e., how a baby experiences and reacts to sensory stimuli, is a clear factor. During the first years, babies and children develop the ability to sort and process impressions. It varies how this happens, which is why children who are particularly sensitive to environmental sensitivity may exhibit signs of motor restlessness as a reaction to overwhelming or unpleasant sensory experiences.

Motor Restlessness: Struggles:

From the baby's perspective, motor restlessness can feel confusing and frustrating. Babies may struggle finding peace, which can impact their sleep, nutrition, and overall well-being.

This can result in crying, irritability, and difficulties in establishing a healthy sleep routine and eating schedule. It's not that your baby doesn't understand what's happening with his/her body, but because he/she needs stimulation, and the brain craves entertainment. It's difficult for your baby to "turn it off" him/herself, but it can be alleviated with weighted blankets, exercises, and swaddling. Simply because it creates "white noise" in the brain when the skin, joints, and muscles are stimulated, which can dampen impressions and make it easier for your baby to settle down.

For you as a parent, it can be extremely stressful and exhausting to deal with a baby with motor restlessness. It can create feelings of insecurity and inadequacy, especially if you don't feel like anything is working.

Try aligning expectations when you're challenged, or if you've been experiencing challenges with your baby at certain times of the day for an extended period.

If you've imagined only peaceful activities after dinner but your baby experienced too many sensory impressions during the day and haven’t been “released” by e.g. exercises, it may be unrealistic to expect your baby to be calm and comfortable. Therefore, it can feel like a defeat if your baby doesn't immediately settle down when it's time for bed.