What are signs of early trauma?
Signs of early trauma can arise soon after birth or even from prenatal experiences like a mother enduring violence during pregnancy. Unpredictable, unresponsive, or harmful caregiving environments commonly lead to certain indicators in infants and toddlers:
- Difficulty forming attachments with caregivers, or conversely, indiscriminate attachment to anyone
- Excessive fear around strangers or separation anxiety
- Trouble with eating and sleeping routines
- Fussiness and difficulty soothing
- Regression in skills after hitting developmental milestones
- Hypervigilance or fear around any new stimuli
I unfortunately saw many pregnant women experience violence, often resulting in preterm delivery and an anxious, distressed baby. Early trauma exposure literally shapes the developing nervous system, leading to a hair-trigger stress response. Challenges with attachment, fear, and regulation arise as coping adaptations to instability and danger.
Signs tend to involve struggles with relating, managing emotions, and meeting basic needs. Careful observation helps identify trauma impacts as early as possible. A caring, consistent environment with nurturing relationships and professional support can help build resilience and new pathways for security and regulation. Early intervention makes a profound difference in healing trauma.
This Ask the Expert is an edited excerpt from the course Infant and Early Childhood Mental Health is Everybody’s Business, presented by Sherrie Segovia, PsyD.