What Is A High-Needs Baby? AKA Not Every Baby is a High Need Baby

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It’s absolutely not true that all babies are high-needs.  While it’s true all babies are high needs in some areas, not every baby is a high-needs baby.  I speak from experience after having two who seem to fit the definition of a high needs baby according to Dr. Sears.

What is a high-needs baby? High need babies can be labelled with many terms, but not all babies are high needs. I share my experience with two challenging babies

As a baby, my daughter was inconsolable.  She had long un-diagnosed dairy and soy intolerances, which didn’t help.  Sleep didn’t come easy because of it either.  Still, aside from those issues, she was demanding.  She refused to sleep if we were out of the house.  But, at the same time, was in much better spirits if we were out and about.

Her preference for getting attention was to scream.  When she wanted something, she would scream at the top of her lungs, despite the fact she knew baby sign language.  When she learned to speak, she continued to default to the very dramatic.

Even as a baby, she was difficult to redirect her attention from something.  When she made up her mind about what she wanted, a simple “oh look at that …” and pointing to a fascinating new object wouldn’t distract her from whatever was on her mind.  Relatives often commented on this amazing personality trait.  Of course, I didn’t know any better … she was my first.  How was I supposed to know you could trick normal babies into forgetting about something?

My daughter scared … no, traumatized us to the point it took us 4 years to decide to try for another baby.  The moment I realized I was pregnant, I experienced panic as all the memories flooded me.  “The second baby is always easier” they’d tell me.

In some ways, he was, simply because of experience.  But, he also wasn’t.  In many ways, he was much more difficult.  During his first examination just after birth, grabbed onto every device attached to the nurses clothing.  I can still hear his nurse repeatedly saying “He’s so feisty.  Man, I’ve never seen a baby so feisty.  Oh my god, he’s feisty!” as she examined him.  Still in the euphoric state after having given birth naturally, I wasn’t quiet aware what it meant for us.

Heading home, I replayed that scene in my head over and over.  And, we’re nearly 2 years past it and I still hear it like it was yesterday.

My son has stayed feisty!

He refused naps.  Sure, most babies have difficulty sleeping.  This guy, at 2 months old, was so aware of our nap routine, that simply walking up the stairs sent him into a complete fit.  For two hours he spent cycling through being upset because he was tired and pissed off that I was trying to get him to take a nap.  I was at a loss.  And then, he got so angry that he projectile vomited twice before passing out from complete exhaustion.

From that point on, his anger erupted easily and for several months, I swear it took 2.5 seconds to get so mad that he’d projectile vomit.  And I still can’t figure out how a 2 or 4 month old can be so angry!

An alert 14 day old high-needs baby

Look how alert our 14 day old was! ©Ivy sahmplus.com

So What is a High-Needs Baby?

Why do I feel it’s important to talk about what a high-needs baby is?  Because most people don’t get it.  What most moms tell you most babies will do, never fit our situations.

I felt unsupported and completely misunderstood.  And, being a mother two not one, but two, high-needs babies, was very hard for me to handle, especially alone.  The only person who truly understood our plight was my husband.  But, he wasn’t home all day to help with the babies either.

A high-needs baby can be called other things like strong-willed, persistent, forceful, or powerful.  A lot of the terms for these babies have negative undertones, but there are some really good qualities about these babies.  It’s just usually hard for parents to see things in a positive manner, especially during the newborn period and infancy.

Dr. Sears describes in great detail the characteristics of a high need baby.  I’d like to cover his points from my experience with my own high-needs babies.  A high-needs baby is:

Intense

I can’t decide if my son’s “altercation” with the nurse as a 2 minute old baby was worse than my daughter’s persistent screams, even after she knew how to sign or speak.  Intense is one way to put it.  Dramatic definitely describes the first year.  And, I certainly can’t think of too many moments in the first year I’d ever describe my babies as peaceful.

The cries out of our babies are blood-curdling.  I mean, I’m sure our neighbors could hear us from across the street through both houses.  Cries were never subtle and could easily wake the entire house.  There, also, never was a build-up … they were either quiet or full-blast.

Hyperactive

Both of my babies were active and aware way earlier than I could have imagined.  They could go for hours without naps, especially if we were out of the house.

I’d laugh at people who would tell me “oh, they’ll fall asleep in the car.”  Seriously, the car didn’t have that effect on either baby.  Instead, they’d stay awake as long as they could just in case they missed anything else exciting.  Of course, that also meant they were bored easily in the car seat.

I have no idea what it’s like to have a baby that actually falls asleep in the car.  It would have been nice to have that as a fall-back option to soothe them to sleep.

Draining

S needed direction from a very early age.  If we didn’t have plans for the day or something for her to learn, she was a nightmare.  The only sanity I could find was to start a sort of home preschool to keep her so busy that she didn’t have time to get bored or irritated.  We were either always on the go or I had to have preschool worksheets or crafts at the ready if we were at home.  It was the only thing that made things look sane at home.

Feeds Frequently

It’s hard to say with S as a baby, but as a toddler, she snacked a lot!

B, from the get-go was a good eater.  He was always attached to my boob.  In his first couple weeks, he gained 10% of his birth weight, whereas most breastfed babies lose up to 10% of their birth weight.  And, while his growth slowed some, he’s still constantly eating!

Demanding

What these babies want, they want!  No ifs, ands, or buts.  Demanding and impatient.  They don’t just want something, they want it right now!

There are no substitutions.  Asking them to wait is inconceivable.

Still, at just a few months old, B would starve himself for an entire day waiting for his boob, rather than settle for a bottle.

Alternatively, my babies also demanded activities that were beyond their age.  S and B, both at a few weeks old, refused tummy time, but enjoyed doing pull-ups.  Here, B is 3 months old and happy as a lark standing in an activity seat … and it was the only thing that made him happy that day!

3 mos old standing ©Ivy sahmplus.com

Awakens Frequently

Let me tell you, with S, I learned way too late that sleep training was an absolute necessity.  I suffered months with her waking up roughly every 30 minutes round the clock, which meant I was lucky if I could get in a 20 minute nap.  Once we did some hard-core sleep training, things improved significantly.  And I made sure to sleep train my son much earlier in his life.  Still, his naps were often cat naps.

Unsatisfied

I can’t tell you how often I asked myself if I was a good mom in the first few years of my daughter’s life.  I rarely felt like I was able to do enough.  Despite taking her everywhere and starting preschool work at home, she wasn’t satisfied.  She always needed more.

My son is somewhat the same.  He’ll be unhappy that he’s not in my arms, but if I hold him, he’s unhappy he’s not playing on the floor.  Thankfully, some of that has somewhat subsided in his toddler-hood.

Unpredictable

Until we had sleep-training down, unpredictable definitely described both my babies.  Still, naps weren’t all that predictable as far as how long they’d sleep.  B, especially, could wake up 30 minutes after being put down for a nap, or he may sleep two hours.  I can’t set appointments or make plans with any certainly that it will be the right time.

Super Sensitive

S was sensitive to loud sounds.  I mean through toddler-hood she had a hard time with louder than average noises, especially toilets flushing and hand dryers in public restrooms.  Even when children got loud during play, she’d kind of gravitate away toward quieter areas.

B isn’t bothered by loud noises.  However, he’s an extremely light sleeper.

You know how you can often go in to check on a sleeping baby and maybe touch them because you can’t help but love on your sleeping baby?  Well … you absolutely cannot do this with B.  Small sounds or even the slightest of touch wakes him up instantly.  And I mean like wide awake and ready for you to hold him in half a second.

Can’t Put Baby Down

Seriously, holding babies all. the. time.  With baby B, I got wise and requested a really nice carrier.  Practicing babywearing was a real life saver with B, and I’d wished I’d done it with my first.  Seriously, the second I put either of them down, they’d resort to screaming (or projectile vomiting).

I had to hold them for everything … cooking, eating, and sleeping (until I sleep trained them).

Not a Self-Soother

Actually neither were easily soothed whether self-soothing or if someone else tried to soothe them.  In fact, this was the real reason we sleep trained.  Having finally realized that they would scream whether or not someone was holding them, we eventually gave up.

I know that sounds harsh, but having dealt with little to no sleep for at least the first six months of my daughter’s life, I was losing it.  I mean, I wasn’t even getting 2 hour stretches of sleep.  What good was it doing to keep getting up if our presence didn’t help anyway?  So, I went against everything I believed and began the cry it out method.  That, and practicing a few other tricks to get baby to sleep really ended up working for us.

Separation Sensitive

This one mostly describes my son.  For the first few months of his life, he wouldn’t let anyone, even my husband, care for him.  If mama wasn’t available, he was angry.  It was so bad that my husband had a hard time making himself even try to be there for the little guy.

And, if mama had to hand the baby over to anyone, he screamed until I got him back.

This took a turn for the better when I forced my husband to take him, at 5 months old, and our daughter to his mom’s house for Mother’s Day.  I’d been a slave for 5 months and I seriously needed my son to learn that someone else was capable of taking care of him.

Are you a mother with a high-needs baby?

If you’re a mother with a high-needs baby, I think it’s important for you to know you’re not alone.  Someone does understand and sympathize.  And, I want to tell you that you’ll get through it.  Maybe you won’t recognize yourself later, but you’ll survive it.  It kind of gets easier as they get older.

There are support groups on Facebook that allow you to vent without fear of judgment.  Those groups helped me to get through my second high-needs baby with a little more dignity.  The truth was, very few of my friends or family could understand.  My complaints and frustration generally fell on deaf ears.  I felt helpless and alone, aside from talking to my husband, until I found those groups!

If you’re a mom with a high-needs baby and you can’t get the support you need, please reach out to someone!  Of course, feel free to private message me or send me an email and I’ll be happy to speak with you.  You are not alone.

Not all babies are high need. I don't know what having a normal baby is like, but I can share my experience with 2 high-needs babies. If you have a "dragon" just know you're not alone.

16 Comments

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