High-Needs Babies, Spirited Toddlers and Highly Sensitive Children

Part One: High Needs Babies

When my son Beanie was born, we struggled to breastfeed. I tried every position my midwife recommended, every trick I read online and still nothing worked. I was terribly upset and so was he. What I thought would have been the most magical time of our life was turning out to be a nightmare. On the third night, sleep-deprived, hormonally volatile and bursting with milk, I begged him, “PLEASE nurse!” I looked into his eyes and saw it – sheer stubborness. “You are going to be a stinker, aren’t you?,” I sighed. We rented the breast pump the next day.

I had a “high-needs baby”. (They are also labeled “fussy babies”, a term I do not like due to its negative connotations. These babies can’t help what they feel; they are just being themselves!) I should have expected it – he was a wiggly, hiccupy little guy in the womb and he continued to be after he was born. Having researched and discovered attachment-style parenting to be biologically normal, my husband and I were excited to try out babywearing and co-sleeping. We were trying to be “minimalist parents”, getting by with only the necessities, so this fitted well with our philosophy. Instead of spending on a crib and stroller, we got a huge King-sized bed that we placed on the floor and a few slings. We did buy a vibrating bouncer that saw little use. Honestly, though, it was HARD. Even though I had worked with babies before, I had no frame of reference of what it was like to be on-call 24-hours-a-day, of what “normal” was. I was pumping round-the-clock (while still trying to get him to latch on with a nipple shield), carrying/babywearing him and after he started spitting up/reflux, sleeping with him on my chest.

While reading Dr. Sears’ Baby Book and website, I realized Beanie had most of the characteristics of a high-maintainance baby! He was: intense (I called it going 0 to 60 in 3 seconds), hyperactive (constantly needed motion to dissipate his energy), draining (physically and emotionally), always hungry (I barely pumped enough to satisfy him), light sleeper (sometimes wanted a swaddle, sometimes not), unpredictable (what worked one day, would not the next, but maybe the day after that), very sensitive (to outside stimuli and emotions), needed constant touch (and later, motion) and was very sensitive to separation (although generally it was only daddy and occasionally grandma). He had a love/hate affair with our convertible car seat (he would fall asleep in it, but he would arch back and refuse to sit down to get buckled).

How did I cope? First, my husband and I job-shared at that point, so he was able to provide lots of hands-on support. He did most of what needed to be done (cooking, cleaning) and going out to the supermarket was our weekly “date”. There was even a brief period when Beanie was waking up at 6 that Dan would take him downstairs, cook breakfast and bring both upstairs an hour later. My day revolved around laying in bed upstairs watching Netflix and then moving downstairs in the afternoon to watch cable. It was boring. But it was all I was able to handle at that point. As he got older and we both felt more comfortable with babywearing, I would take him out for walks close to home. When he napped on me, I would use that time to sleep mostly, but sometimes I’d read a book or play Wii. When he woke up, ready for action, I would cook or clean something or just have a dance party with him. Things got easier at about 2.5 months (the fourth trimester); I felt like he was more interested in the world around him and that made him more interesting too. When he started to crawl at 6.5 months, I was ecstatic! He could disspate energy on his own and it gave us both some much-needed space and independence. I also want to mention that some of the homeopathic remedies we used for teething (particularly Hyland’s), were also remedies to promote calmness. I also noticed a relaxation in his temperament when he consistently wore his teething/eczema hazelwood and amber necklace.

There are a few things I wish I done differently. First, I would have made some good mama (and papa) -friends before we had Beanie. It would have been nice to spend time with some other folks who understood what I was going through in those early months. In a similar vein, I would have also attended more groups, like La Leche League and Holistic Moms’ Network. It would have been helpful to have advice and tips from people who had “been there, done that”. I think I would have been able to breastfeed more quickly (he finally latched on at 3 months) and babywear earlier (which would have saved my arms and kept me from watching too much of The Office.) I would have asked more people to do more for me: dropped off some food and maybe throw in a load of laundry. Ultimately, I am glad we put in all that hard work in those early months – because I see it starting to pay off now! More on “the spirited toddler” next time.

Is/was your baby high-needs? How did this affect your parenting? What words of advice would you give other parents at this stage?


Dr. William Sears: Author of The Baby Book and The High Needs Baby website, including information on characteristics, sleep and handling criticism. Information on attachment parenting found here.

Dr. Harvey Karp: Author of The Happiest Baby on the Block. His website has book and video excerpts.

Dr. Elaine Aron: Author of The Highly Sensitive Child with a chapter on babies. (Although I must note, I do not completely agree with her views on sleep. Whatever works best for you and your family is best!) There is also a quiz to take on her website, although it is intended for older children.

The Fussy Baby Site

Fussy Baby

High Need Child Facebook Page

High Needs Baby Yahoo! Group

One response to this post.

  1. Taking care of babies is such a huge commitment! Everytime I read blogs about babies, it always surprises me what our parents had to go through to raise us.


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