High Needs Babies. Take a breath, or two, or three. I’m sure you are exhausted! If you’re reading this, chances are you have a high needs baby yourself and you ran across the term while trying to figure out why your child was crying endlessly, never falling asleep anywhere but on you, needing constant attention, and the list goes on. That’s how I discovered the term!
My daughter didn’t act like “most babies”. Seriously, starting from when she was ONE DAY OLD in the hospital, she needed me to nurse her to sleep or she would scream nonstop. I could imagine people hearing her cry and thinking we were doing something wrong! She would NOT fall asleep in the cot, she wouldn’t take a pacifier, she hated basically everything but snuggling up with mama and nursing. We tried everything, but that girl was a ton of work. I had the doctors and nurses check on her several times, but she was perfectly healthy and normal. When we got home from the hospital, it was apparent that she was not going to be the “typical” newborn who fell asleep in the swing, stroller, or anywhere else. (In fact, she wouldn’t even let us put her in the stroller for two minutes, and lord help us if we put her in the car seat). She wouldn’t be the baby that was content just being held and rocked. At first, I thought something was wrong with her because she was so difficult to soothe. At two weeks old, we went back to the doctor because, again, I thought something was wrong. Again, it was nothing. She was just a LOT of work! She knew what she needed and if we didn’t give it to her, she loudly let us know. We had to basically be in constant motion unless she was asleep and the only way she would fall asleep was to be nursed to sleep. Basically, nursing was the only thing that made her happy.
I was on a mission to do some research and see what was going on. Surely it wasn’t something that I was doing/not doing, right? I couldn’t have made her that way, right? I ran across “Purple Crying” first which seemed to fit at times, but it still didn’t explain why she was never content. One fateful day I discovered the term “high needs baby” and it was as if a lightbulb went off. Everything suddenly made sense and I felt as though the article was written about Penelope!
Once I understood what was going on, I was able to work with her and meet her where she was. I knew what to expect, and I knew it wasn’t something I was doing wrong. It was no longer disheartening, and we got into a great rhythm of understanding. I began to stop expecting her to act like a “normal baby”, and she became a happy baby who rarely cried! Things got even better once she got mobile, she turned into a “busy” baby who loved playing and exploring (but she needs me right there with her, just in case). I also started practicing Attachment Parenting, which honestly goes hand-in-hand with a high needs baby, and that changed everything!
So, what is a “high needs baby”? Dr. Sears famously had a high needs baby himself, and wrote an article about the “Twelve Features of a High Needs Baby”:
- Intense – Everything is intense with Penelope. It’s up or it’s down and there’s no in between. Dr. Sears says that you can often spot the high needs baby in the hospital, just like with Penelope.
- Hyperactive – Penelope has always gotten bored quickly and needs entertainment. Now that she’s older, she’s always wanting to move, learn, explore and everyone who sees her in action says she’s “busy”.
- Draining – She requires a lot of work. A lot of attention. Just, a lot.
- Feeds Frequently – She would nurse for 45 minutes to an hour and a half, wake, then want to eat 30 minutes later. I basically nursed her about 20 hours a day.
- Demanding – Well, obviously.
- Awakens Frequently – I mentioned this already, but yeah, she is a super light sleeper and seems to think she will be missing something if she sleeps too much.
- Unsatisfied – She always seemed to want something more, something different, something new. Unless she was nursing.
- Unpredictable – Absolutely! She’s ever-evolving. What works today won’t work tomorrow.
- Super-Sensitive – Like walking on egg shells sometimes.
- Can’t Put Baby Down – Like seriously, not even for 5 minutes most of the time. It’s gotten a lot better since she can crawl now, though.
- Not a Self Soother – Absolutely, 100% true. She needs to be nursing to even consider going to sleep most of the time.
- Separation Sensitive – She must be near her mama at ALL times.
I was so happy to find out about high needs babies because it gave me confirmation that I wasn’t doing something wrong. I wasn’t making her this way, it wasn’t because I was breastfeeding or because of anything really. It’s just how she is, it’s her personality, and she isn’t the only high needs baby. To be fair though, I don’t want to paint a picture that she’s difficult. She’s actually a really happy, fun loving baby… as long as we are doing everything she wants and attending to all of her needs, exactly when she needs it!
If you’re reading this and you have a high needs baby, know that most “high needs babies” grow up to be super intelligent and often leaders. They are the adults who are driven, confident, independent, and successful. Also know that you aren’t alone and it’s not something you are doing wrong!
This too, shall pass.