When my pediatrician remarked that my four-month-old daughter was indeed a high-needs baby, I felt a huge sigh of relief. Well, first I ran to the Internet and read what exactly this meant and discovered that YES, she sure fit the bill to a tee. I felt better knowing my daughter didn’t act this way because of anything we did wrong as parents, she was just a “different breed” of child.
Coined by Dr. Sears, in a nutshell high-needs babies cry way more than the average baby (yeah, like 8-12 hours a day!), are much more sensitive to life’s discomforts, are very intense and demanding, become over or under stimulated quickly, refuse to be put down and have to be held by mama (and only mama), suffer from separation anxiety, and basically reject any kind of rest or sleep until their little minds and bodies just can’t withstand it any longer.
About 15 percent of babies are just born this way. So if you’re one of the lucky parents of a high-needs child, rest assured you’re not doing it wrong, your kid is just wired differently.
High-Needs Babies Are No Joke
I knew that becoming a mother wasn’t going to be easy. But I didn’t realize it was going to be as challenging as it really was. I’d look at my friend’s kids who were content to lay on the floor, sleep through the night (my three-year old still doesn’t do this), and would let just any ol’ bystander hold them. My daughter was ONLY content in her car seat or in my arms. She would not even tolerate Dad holding her.
When she was 10 weeks old, I went back to work and she went to daycare where she starved all day because she refused a bottle — if she couldn’t nurse, she wasn’t gonna eat. Which resulted in me spending every lunch break at the daycare center nursing her. We also discovered that we could bounce her on an exercise ball and she’d remain happy. So there we were, every single night for hours on end watching reruns of Kardashians on that damn exercise ball. I will say I had the best abs of my life that year. You gotta do whatever works to get some peace!
Accidental Attachment Parenting
Don’t be surprised if you find out like we did that we had “accidentally” adopted the style of attachment parenting. We certainly didn’t set out to do this, but it’s the parenting style our daughter demanded of us. And we got a lot of flack for it from well-meaning family and friends — people who thought we were letting our baby “control” us and that we were spoiling her. But what they couldn’t understand is that as a different kind of baby, she needed a different kind of parenting. We weren’t spoiling her, we were meeting her needs. And most babies didn’t have those same needs. Infants can’t manipulate — she was simply communicating to us.
Tips to Survive a High Needs Baby
Now that my daughter is three, I look back and realize there are things we probably could have done better so I could have kept my sanity (something I didn’t do well).
- Let them fuss a little. The “cry it out” method doesn’t work for high-needs babies because rather than give up, they just get more frustrated and cry louder with every passing minute — they never run out of the energy to cry. EVER. However, it is okay to let the baby cry once in a while. I should have handed her over to Dad and gone to get a pedicure; taken a long, hot shower once a day (okay, who am I kidding, once a week); or went to chat with my neighbor friend. Twenty minutes of fussing will not hurt the baby or scar Dad.
- Don’t compare. I found myself calling my nephew “a saint” and griping that his parents had it so easy. But that doesn’t mean he’s good and my daughter is bad. They’re just different. And comparing will only make you resentful.
- Count your blessings. I know first-hand how challenging having a high-needs baby is. But, she’s also brilliant, affectionate, and determined.
- Be flexible. If your kid needs a rigid routine to be happy, do that. If you know his witching hour is at 5 p.m., don’t take him to the grocery store at that time. After two years, I gave up trying to force a nap. If she didn’t want to nap, I wasn’t going to waste my day forcing it.
- Hang in there. It gets better. While we had a rough go in the infant months, my now-preschooler is so much easier!
Love up on that baby of yours and rest assured knowing that one day it won’t be as difficult.