High-Need Baby – how I survived a parents’ horror

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If your baby doesn’t allow to be put in the crib, falls asleep only in someone’s arms and always cries in the pram, you may be facing a High-Need Baby.

What is a High-Need Baby?

The term was coined by Dr. William Sears, the creator of attachment parenting. One of his children (and not the first one) was unsoothable as a baby. After analyzing her behavior, Dr. Sears came up with 12 characteristics of a High-Need Baby:

  1. Intense when it comes to emotions (such as loneliness),
  2. Hyperactive,
  3. Draining their parents’ energy,
  4. Feeding frequently,
  5. Demanding – they will cry as long as it takes to get what they need,
  6. Awakening frequently,
  7. Unsatisfied – sometimes nothing works, literally,
  8. Unpredictable,
  9. Super-sensitive,
  10. “Can’t put baby down”,
  11. Not a self-soother,
  12. Separation sensitive.

You can read more about these features on Dr. Sears’s website here.

The first few months of life of my Wiktor were just like that. Only after reading about HNBs and applying some of the advice written by psychologists and other specialists was I able to come back to relatively normal life and even found the time for a (hot!) coffee. Here are 5 things that saved me:

1) Accept (s)he needs it

The most important thing is to chill and accept that we have a high-need baby. Forget all the „good advice” of everyone around and stop listening to the bragging of the „ideal baby’s” parents. Remember, everything’s fine, you’re a great mom, it’s just that high-need babies are like that. That’s it. Period. You can’t change your child and, believe me, or not, in about 18 months you’ll begin to miss this crazy time.

2) Hug, carry, cuddle, snuggle

A high-need baby’s nervous system alarms when away from a caretaker. They would be the happiest if they spent 24hrs/day with their moms (sorry, dads, it’s all about the heartbeat they heard in the womb). Although it’s impossible, we can minimize the away time by e.g. babywearing. With a baby in a wrap, you can walk around the house, make yourself tea or coffee or prepare products for dinner. What is more, if your baby falls asleep while in a wrap, you can put them more easily into the crib – together with the wrap and the smell of mommy or daddy, which allows for an even deeper sleep. Remember, if you want to wrap a small baby or a newborn, you need to consult a certified specialist. Only this way you can be sure you won’t harm the fragile spine of your child or hamper its development.

3) Take care of yourself

Remember that a tired mom won’t be able to take good care of such a needy baby, especially when sleep time is deficient. Use every minute to regenerate your energy. Remember that you’re not alone – use every help you can get from your family and share responsibilities with daddy. It is vital that mommy leaves home without the baby every now and then – for your own psychological health.

4) Why not bedsharing?

It’s the most natural way for a baby to sleep. For me, it actually turned out to be the only possibility, since I stopped getting up to put the baby back to the crib after nursing at night. It is safe – as long as you follow certain rules. There is research that confirms that sleeping with mom or dad allows the baby to sleep deeper, helps regulate temperature and even enhances immunity. And you can’t overestimate the way it makes life easier, especially if you breastfeed. You can read more about safe co-sleeping and bedsharing in an in-depth article on KellyMom.com here.

5) Smile at the future with your High-Need Baby

As a mother of a two-year-old high-need baby, I can assure you, it does get easier with time. This is the main difference between an HNB and a less demanding baby. When other parents complained that “the worst period” just started when you can’t leave the toddler for a second, I felt relieved, because I didn’t have to carry him all the time anymore. Then the naps became more regular. Then he became more outgoing and stayed with someone else without crying for mommy.

One year ago I sometimes couldn’t leave home, because my boy would cry all the time when I was away. Today my family considers him a calm, joyful and outgoing toddler. Thanks to all the cuddling during his first year of life, we managed to build up his sense of security, which in turn, hopefully, will contribute to his harmonious development.

I hope you can be a little bit calmer about your little cuddle-lovers. Remember, sometimes it’s just you and your love that your child needs. I’ve written more about how important love is for children here. If your baby behaves like an HNB, please comment so that other parents see they’re not alone in the struggle.

2 thoughts on “High-Need Baby – how I survived a parents’ horror

  1. I needed this article so, so bad. Thank you so much for posting. As a first time mom, navigating the waters of a HNB was very, very intense the first fre months of his life. I thought I was doing something wrong until, one day, I just relaxed and accepted that life was how it was. EVERYTHING got SO much easier after that. My baby became far more content once we started bed sharing (and got more sleep!), cuddle time was his favorite thing to do and I was okay with just doing that all day (even got some much missed naps in), and breastfeeding even got easier. You’re so right with everything, and I feel as if I could’ve written this article myself (but I’m so glad you did, because I know now that I’m not alone!). And to the other moms out there, she’s so right- it does get easier. Thank you for this post 🖤

    1. Thank you so much for such a lovely comment. This is exactly how I felt, too. When everything seems wrong and other parents are surprised, we just need a reaffirmation that this is all right, that this is normal for some babies and that you, mom, are doing great.

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