Motor Restlessness - part 1 of 3

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

Babies & Motor Restlessness

Motor restlessness in babies is a term more and more people learn about, and which can seem both challenging and stressful for parents.

Often motor restlessness is associated with a high degree of physical activity, where it can be difficult to calm the baby, and which can affect the baby's as well as the parents' sleep.

In this article, the reasons behind motor restlessness are explored, how it is experienced by the baby and the parents, and what measures can alleviate motor restlessness.

But before we dive into the discussion of whether motor restlessness affects your sleep situation, we need to understand how it unfolds and what it may look like.

What is motor restlessness?

Short definition: Your baby/child seeks sensory input from the movements he/she makes with his/her body. Your baby tries stimulating his/her senses to find peace in his/her body or the situation he/she is in.

For many babies/children, it is difficult to sort through all the inputs they receive during the day. This often makes it harder for your baby/child to fall/stay asleep, and he/she will experience a physical need to stimulate his/her senses, which manifests as motor restlessness.

When the need for sensory stimulation arises, and maybe even while your baby is tired, it can be difficult to calm him/her. It may also be "too late" to do the exercises that stimulate the senses and thus alleviate motor restlessness because your baby is simply too tired. If motor restlessness occurs while your baby is sleeping and he/she wakes him/herself and you, it is difficult to prevent. In this case, we can recommend the use of weighted blankets and/or swaddling.

Motor restlessness: Symptoms:

  • Restless legs, arms, and head movements
  • Increased need to fiddle with or suck on something
  • Increased need to be close to parents, to be swaddled, or to lie under a weighted blanket

This may include constant kicking, body twisting, and a general restlessness that is not easy for your baby to alleviate on his/her own. It's normal for babies to be active and explore his/her physical abilities. It's only characterised motor restlessness when the level of activity exceeds what is desired in each situation. Therefore, it's important to note that motor restlessness is not negative or abnormal. It's a sign that your baby seeking new sensory experiences through his/her body. So, no need to try eliminating motor restlessness altogether, instead try helping your baby find peace when needed, making it easier to establish a well-functioning daily routine.

If you're not experiencing challenges with motor restlessness to a degree that disturbs you, then it's nothing to worry about.

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