All babies have needs. All babies start this life on earth with complete dependence on their caregivers to meet their needs.
All babies are unique beings and as such, the way their needs manifest will vary greatly from individual to individual.
If you’ve never heard of a ‘high need baby’ but suspect you may be parenting one, read on.
10 Ways To Know If You Have A High Need Baby
Needs for babies are not limited to the physical. Many baby ‘experts’ subscribe to the very outdated view that once a baby has been fed, changed and burped, they have had their ‘needs’ met. This is not true.
Human infants are whole beings. They have deep emotional and physiological needs that extend much further than their digestive system.
The need for contact, closeness and comfort is as primal and legitimate as their need for sustenance.
Their rapidly wiring brain and growing bodies thrive with contact and responsiveness.
For some babies, they are relatively easily satisfied and relaxed with life, and meeting their needs is no great stretch for their caregivers.
For many babies, there will have certain areas that seem to have a higher need to be fulfilled than others.
Then there are the babies who stand out from the crowd.
These babies who are incredibly hard to settle, almost impossible to satisfy, and come to this world with a level of intensity that can leave their caregivers breathless, confused and exhausted.
Dr William Sears and Dr Martha Sears wrote an incredible article that helps to pinpoint 12 attributes which best describe what they termed ‘the high need baby’.
Reading this article for the first time, as the mother of a high need little firecracker, tears of relief and reassurance flowed freely.
I wasn’t imagining it, my baby really was far more challenging than most of his peers.
It also felt good to have all of these attributes the world kept telling me were ‘bad’ clearly explained with a hugely positive spin.
The 12 features of a high need baby, according to the Drs Sears are:
- Feeds Frequently
- Awakens Frequently
- Can’t Put Your Baby Down
- Not a Self-Soother
- Separation Sensitive.
If you just found yourself nodding along while reading this list, the very first thing I’d ask you to do is to have a read of this article Baby Waking Extremely Frequently? Here Are 4 Things To Consider.
Many high need babies wouldn’t be so thoroughly high need if any underlying issues were addressed. Surrendering to the knowledge that this is your unique little being should only happen while any potential causes of discomfort are being addressed.
Now, with a nod to the Sears, I’d like to give you 10 sure-fire ways to tell if you are parenting a high need baby:
#1: You Skipped The Sleepy Newborn Stage
While in hospital or very soon after birth, you may have been told your baby is very wide awake for a newborn!
With no need to sleep off their birth experience, these babies are often wide awake, sensitive, fussy little babies. These babies not only benefit from a very cosy fourth trimester but absolutely, 100% demand it is forthcoming.
#2: You And Your Baby Are ‘Different’ At Mothers’ Group
Are you the mother who is up jiggling and breastfeeding an unsettled little person while the other mothers sit and chat, their little ones calmly cooing and fascinated by their own hands?
Are you the one trying to participate in a conversation while you soothe your near-impossible to soothe baby while other babies calmly pop off to sleep without so much as a peep?
Do you have to nurse three times in the hour you are there, while everybody else seems to have some kind of amazing schedule happening, where they know exactly when and for how long their baby will feed?
Does your baby lose their mind the second they are placed on the mat or handed to another person, while every other baby happily sits there watching proceedings and feels comfortable in just about anyone’s arms?
YOU. ARE. NOT. ALONE.
You aren’t doing anything wrong while they are all doing something so right.
If you are lucky enough to find a kindred mama spirit with their own precious little high need person, hang onto each other and ride this wave together. Finding other mothers living this extra level of challenge can make such a huge difference for you.
If you have no one in your real life who currently fits the bill, reach out online and start finding your mama tribe.
#3: Your Baby Doesn’t Do Routine
There are two schools of thought about the best way to parent a baby, and neither is particularly useful to the parent of a high need baby.
The Rigid Baby Schedule/Routine: it’s not necessary or appropriate for human babies to be on a rigid schedule, although they remain popular due to outdated mainstream parenting advice which focuses on adult control and productivity ahead of normal infant development and needs.
The Naturally Occurring, Baby Led Schedule/Routine: families who follow their baby’s lead and discover their baby has their own unique schedule and routine. This is a beautiful thing and is very reassuring and welcome in the early months where everything is so new with your baby.
However, high need babies often don’t have a rhythm or flow that is in any way predictable or pattern-forming.
They like to keep everyone on their toes.
If you for one second allow yourself to think you know what they will do on any given day, you will be given a very sharp lesson in making such an assumption.
#4: You Find It All Really Impossibly Hard
See above points. You are doing it tough. Tough doesn’t mean you are doing any of it wrong though. You can be absolutely rocking this gig and still be finding it hard.
The key here is to realise nobody could be or would be finding this any easier if your baby was theirs. You are and always will be the perfect parent for your unique baby.
With a baby like this though, hustling and calling on your support crew is not a mere luxury or optional extra, it is crucial.
You need to make sure you are okay in order to keep parenting your baby the way they need you to parent. One the best ways to achieve this is to call in help any and every time you can.
Not just once you hit breaking point, but regularly and routinely. Nurturing the nurturer should be the atmosphere surrounding you.
#5: You Think You’re Making Your Baby Needy
When you see other parents interacting with their babies, it can easily lead you to question whether your baby is only so ‘demanding’ and ‘needy’ because they have you wrapped around their little finger.
Parents from previous generations would no doubt do their bit to assure you that you have created a rod for your own back by responding to your baby each and every time they have called. This is not true.
Your baby is not ‘more’ anything because you have been responsive, aside from perhaps more trusting.
Babies do not have the mental capacity to manipulate. They need what they need and they have a limited to no capacity to meet those needs themselves.
A baby who needs more from their caregiver is just as worthy of respect and belief as their less ‘needy’ peers.
#6: Your Baby Never Goes To Sleep Without A Fuss
Yep, this one hurts. This is not, despite how it feels, any slight on you or your baby though.
It’s easy to get caught up in feelings of envy, jealousy, despair and disappointment.
The ‘why can’t my baby just do that?’ thoughts creep in and can swiftly begin to taint the way you view your baby.
Your baby is so much more than their ability/inability to fall asleep easily and independently. It doesn’t determine whether you have a ‘good baby’ or a ‘bad baby’ or if you are a ‘good parent’ or ‘bad parent’.
A baby who falls asleep easily may seem like your ultimate dream right now but it is not your reality and you and your baby deserve to find happiness with what is, not just what you wish were so.
#7: Your Baby Is Only Happy Attached To You
All babies benefit from skin-to-skin contact and being held close.
But a high need baby seems to have an insatiable desire and need for human touch, and most of the time, only mama will do.
You barely tuck away your breast and they are begging to have it back.
By day, this can be frustrating and restrictive but at night it can lead to huge levels of anxiety and exhaustion, particularly if you choose keep your baby in their own sleep space.
Often times, these babies fall easily back to sleep in their mother’s arms but simply cannot be placed down without instantly waking.
Safe bedsharing is often the best option to meet the baby’s need for contact and nursing and also the mother’s need for rest and sleep. You can learn more in Sleeping With Baby – Safe Co-Sleeping Tips.
#8: You Have No Idea What Sleeping Through The Night Is
Sleeping through the night without calling for a caregiver is a completely ridiculous expectation for human infants in the first couple of years of life, contrary to what mainstream ‘experts’ say.
For the parent of a high need baby, the mythical five hours of uninterrupted sleep seems ludicrously far from their reality, let alone these babies that sleep the night through.
Parents of firecrackers have a very different yardstick for what a ‘good night’ looks like and you’ll know this is you if the thought of only three wake ups sounds positively heavenly.
As mentioned at the very beginning of this article, if your baby is waking extremely frequently, they’re crying in pain, or staying awake for long periods, it is essential any underlying issues are investigated before accepting this as your unique baby’s ‘norm’ for now.
#9: Your Baby Has Huge Separation Anxiety
If a few hours away from your baby causes you huge angst and planning, you’ll know this all too well. Not all babies are chilled out when separated from their main caregiver.
Some babies can manage very short, well-timed sojourns but anything longer may cause them huge distress despite the dedication and commitment of the person responsible for them.
Some babies happily adapt to alternative care and have no trouble finding sleep or being fed by somebody else, others don’t.
This can be hard to understand and accept by people and can be a source of tension when people misinterpret this as something ‘created’ or ‘encouraged’ by the mother and therefore something which needs to be broken and changed.
A baby who doesn’t cope well when separated from their caregiver isn’t behaving in a way that is outside the range of normal. Their strong need warrants respect and honouring if at all possible.
Independence will blossom naturally, without ever needing to be forced. The baby or toddler with the tightest grip on their mama, will one day feel confident and relaxed without her presence.
If at all possible, it is worthwhile working around your baby’s needs in this area or making very gentle and slow changes if unavoidable.
#10: Your Baby’s Cry Is All Emotion
Babies apparently have different cries and according to many ‘experts‘, only some of these cries warrant active response and care.
For example, they may say if a baby is crying an ‘emotional cry’ then yes, you should go and comfort them. But if a baby is merely ‘protesting’ you should leave them to sort themselves out.
There are many issues with this that can be discussed but for the purpose of this article, you’ll have no doubt read this mainstream advice and wondered why you baby’s cry isn’t nuanced the way the ‘books’ like to describe.
Not all babies have a range of cries and high need babies in particular, tend to be more of the 0-100 variety where they go from nothing to everything in seconds and are all emotion.
There is nothing to unlock with their cries. No puzzle to solve, no value in pause, and certainly no calming on their own once they start. Once they cry, they beg and demand your presence.
They are not backwards in coming forwards and they make their need for assistance very clear. This is both a blessing and a curse.
With zero need to warm up, a feeling of hunger results in hysteria in the time it takes to pull your shirt up and unlatch your bra.
The time it takes you to go to the toilet after laying them on the mat can feel like a lifetime. Trying to wake up enough to pick them up at night can seem like you took an eternity to your baby even if it was mere seconds.
The blessing comes in the form of never feeling the need to question your response. They cry and you respond. You feel free to respond in the ways you know will most likely help soothe your child in that moment. Anything and everything to calm their woes or at least to have them supported in your arms.
If these 10 points resonated with you, please know you and your darling high need person will be okay. Their intensity will calm and their confidence and independence will grow before your eyes.
These little movers and shakers of the baby and toddler world take this life and throw technicolor at it. Their fiery, determined, persistent and trusting souls are exactly what this world needs.
Take a deep breath, make yourself many a cuppa, rally your troops and ride this ever so rewarding wave. You’ll make it out and look back on the beauty through the hard slog.
They are worth every moment you invest in them. Your work right now is ever so important.