High Need Babies
Dr. Sears on High Need Babies
Some of the most reassuring literature I’ve read on fussy babies is by Dr. William Sears, author of The Fussy Baby Book. Dr. Sears and his wife, Martha, began to specialize in fussy babies when their fourth baby, Hayden, was born. While their first 3 children had been generally easy babies, Hayden was only happy when being held or fed. It was then that they realized that some babies are just truly high need.
Dr. Sears describes 12 features of high need babies, based on both what they experienced with their daughter, and what they have seen over the years in their pediatric practice. They note that all babies will exhibit some of these traits, some of the time.
Following is a brief summary of the 12 traits of High Need Babies.
12 Characteristics of High Need Babies
Make their needs known in a very loud, definitive way. Are passionate about what they want and don’t want, and if you’re not quick to meet their needs, they’ll let you have it. They cry loudly, but the flip side is that they also voice their pleasure loudly.
In constant motion, may have stiff or tense muscles, seldom quiet or still, and may even resist being held or cuddled. May resist being swaddled or wrapped, and may be difficult to breastfeed because of their constant movement.
High needs babies wear you down! They definitely keep you on your toes, and may leave little time for you to recharge your batteries. Because they often don’t sleep well, there is no consistent or predictable down time for you, the parent. This can be extremely tiring and frustrating.
High needs babies may desire to nurse or bottle feed more frequently. And you may also wish to feed more frequently to pacify your baby. I have heard from many parents that their high needs baby was in the top percentile for weight due to the high frequency of feedings.
This is the child that lets you know, very loudly, what he needs. If you don’t get to him right away, he is quick to voice his displeasure. He feels his needs very strongly and knows how to get them met.
Sleeps in short stretches and may also have trouble falling asleep.
No matter what you do, your baby may still be grumpy, unhappy, or discontent, even if you’ve tried every calming technique you can think of. Dr. Sears encourages parents to realize when they’ve done all they can, and that the rest is up to their baby.
One day she falls asleep when you rock her, the next she doesn’t. You’re able to calm her by feeding her one night, but the next night she shrieks when you try to feed her. He sleeps through the night for a few days, and then is up 3+ times the next few nights. We jokingly call our little guy manic depressive because he can go from calm and content and smiling one second to red-faced screaming the next.
Extremely sensitive to their environment and external stimuli. They are constantly observing the world around them, and prefer to be at home, or in a calm and familiar environment. They may startle easily, and are very sensitive to pain or discomfort.
Can’t put baby down
These babies prefer to be held and in constant motion. They may resist sleeping alone, or being relegated to their stroller or bouncy chair. They prefer human touch and movement. High Needs babies tend to do very well when being ‘worn’ in slings or baby carriers.
Not a self-soother
These are the babies that need help to fall asleep. While other babies may be able to drift peacefully off to sleep in their cribs, some babies need to be gently taught how to relax and fall asleep on their own. This may not come until a little later in infancy.
Some babies definitely prefer the company of their primary caregivers. It may be difficult to leave them with babysitters or even have someone else hold them. They are deeply attached to their parents as they know that these are the people who meet their needs.
Additional Traits of High Need Babies
In talking to many other parents, I have found several other traits that appear to be quite common in these high need babies:
Difficulty entertaining themselves
Many babies need parents’ help to keep them entertained, particularly before they are able to sit up on their own. However, what I hear from many parents of high need babies is that their baby continues to have trouble playing on their own even into toddlerhood. These babies are often not able to sit on the floor contentedly, even with age appropriate toys, without adult interaction. These babies seem to need the stimulation of interaction more than other babies.
Loves to be around people, noise and activity
While some high need babies do best in quiet, calm environments, what I hear from many, many parents is that their baby actually prefers being in crowds, surrounded by people and activity. They may cry and fuss significantly more in the quiet of their own homes. The activity and drone of crowds or traffic seem to soothe them, and they may even fall asleep. Friends and family may not believe your stories of crying and fussing because these babies appear so easy-going and content when in public.
How do I cope with my high need baby?
In my experience, half the battle is adjusting your thinking and accepting your baby as he or she is. Realize that some babies just have a different temperament, and just need more attention right now. Try to put aside the expectations and hopes you had for your baby when you were pregnant. Embrace the fact that your baby is who he is, but this isn’t how he will always be.
When your baby is screaming, strap her into the stroller, get yourself a coffee and go for a long walk. Don’t worry about your house looking perfect. In a few months, you’ll have more time for that. Arrange to have a babysitter a couple of times a week; don’t worry about your baby’s crying bothering the sitter. This is one day in her life, this is your every day. Order in dinner; the gourmet meals can wait a while.
But most of all, be gentle with yourself. The expectations you may have had for what kind of mother you would be probably didn’t take into account having a high need baby. Don’t expect that you’ll always have warm, fuzzy feelings towards your little one. Enjoy the quiet, happy times you do have together right now. Find ways to get through it. I promise, it will get easier.
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