Is it possible for a baby to remember trauma? My son is 8 months and has huge difficulties going to sleep either at night or for naps. He had severe reflux in the early months but it’s now under control. We are wondering if he has gotten a fear of sleep from the few weeks when he constantly choked when going down to sleep? Could that be possible? Dee
Yes, it is well documented in the literature that babies can remember traumatic events. It is important to understand that they do not remember them with the thinking parts of their brain but instead remember then in the feeling parts of their brain which cause sensations in their bodies. The typical trauma events in a babies life range from neonatal and birth difficulties, separation from the caregiver, being dropped, left unattended for long periods of time, being harmed physically or sexually or witnessing harm to others. A baby cannot recall these events in their thinking memories but their bodies will remember them.
The infant trauma response ranges from fixed staring with unblinking eyes, jerking movements of the arms and extremities, exaggerated startle response, uncontrollable crying, increased muscular tension (or the opposite-floppy muscles), arching of the back and difficulty being soothed. There are a variety of trauma related behaviours in infants. It can be hard to discern whether or not what you see is a trauma response or a result of the child's temperament but if you know there was a traumatic event in the past you are probably dealing with the trauma response.
Your child's difficulty sleeping is a result of his reflux trauma. His brain thinks his body is going to die and it immediately releases stress chemicals which prevent sleep from happening. This is beyond his conscious control.
You will need to provide considerable soothing and calming for his brain to feel more comfortable lying down. Sing to him, caress him. make sure he is really sleepy when you put him down. Do not bring him into your bed! You migh consider greatly elevating the head of the bed with books under the bed legs. Gradually lowering the elevation over a period of time may help.
This is a good teaching question because we now know that babies can experience the behavioural and emotional effects of trauma. For a general introduction to the topic please see the following link:
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