Have a ‘Difficult’ Baby? Try Attachment Parenting

There's hope in attachment parenting.Some babies are just harder to soothe than others, and many moms of these babies blame themselves. But take heart: Your baby’s difficulty with calming down likely has nothing to do with anything you’re doing.

Babies are born with their temperamental tendencies, and some are just more “high-needs” than others.

The good news is, there is a parenting approach that can help you adapt to your baby’s temperament and learn how to best meet his or her unique emotional needs: Attachment parenting provides a flexible roadmap through its Eight Principles of Parenting, customizable for even the most demanding infant out there.

My oldest, apart from her medical complications stemming from a premature birth, was your stereotypical “easy” baby. She was predictable, relatively easily calmed down when upset, and seemed able to adapt to changes in routine fairly easily. I had been introduced to attachment parenting when she was a newborn, but the idea didn’t really take hold until her sister was born a year later.

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My second baby was very different from her big sister. In her first three months, she cried all the time. I didn’t seem to be able to soothe her no matter what I did, and I felt terrible for it. Where before I just dabbled in attachment parenting, with my second baby, I felt it was a necessity to be able to meet her needs as well as have some semblance of confidence as a new mother — and for the rest of the household to get some sleep at night.

Four years later, my son was born. By then, I had fully embraced attachment parenting and had become an avid proponent of it in my writing. And good thing, because I needed it! My third baby was very demanding and easily frustrated, wanted to nurse almost constantly well past a year old, easily became overstimulated, cried whenever the noise decibel rose to slightly more than silent, refused to be left alone anywhere including in the back seat of the car (I couldn’t go anywhere without another child in the back to keep him company), and couldn’t sleep anywhere if it was dark. Attachment parenting wasn’t even an option for him; he gave me no choice — although I wouldn’t have parented him another way, anyway.

In general, infant temperaments fall into low-needs, or “easy,” babies and high-needs babies. Researchers at Vanderbilt University categorize infant/child temperament into three groups of traits split between the two temperament types:

Low-needs Infant Temperament

  • Flexible — The overarching theme of this infant temperament is flexibility. While they have predictable routines to their sleeping and feeding, they are adaptable to changes in their routines. These infants tend to be happier, calmer, and more easily soothed. Most infants fall into this temperament type.

High-needs Infant Temperaments

  • Cautious, or slow to warm — These infants share a dislike for new people and situations. They tend to be fussy, withdrawn, or to react in another less-positive way toward new experiences. However, over time, with repeated exposure to the new person or situation, these infants become more comfortable and respond more positively.
  • Active — These babies seem to be the opposite of the low-needs temperament. They are very fussy, have unpredictable sleeping and feeding habits, are fearful of new people and situations, are easily overstimulated especially noise, seem to be difficult to calm down, and are intense in their reactions.

Can you guess which temperament my third baby fell into?

The thing about temperament is that it is inborn, largely genetic, and fixed through the lifetime. This means that your baby’s temperament can’t be changed.

This news may give some new parents palpitations who may be wondering if their active, unpredictable, fussy baby will always be puzzling as he grows into childhood and adolescence. From my experience, and that of countless other parents I’ve talked with over the years, this depends on how you approach it.

Yes, temperament is set, but parenting style can help a child learn how to curb or promote certain behaviors. Personality blooms out of how inborn temperament interacts with environmental factors, such as parenting choices, family lifestyle, coping skills, and so on.

My babies are now 11, 10, and 6 years old. Their basic temperaments have remained the same through the years, ever fueling their inborn reactions to new people and situations and change in general. Temperament has proved to be a significant building block in their personality development, but attachment parenting has helped me to be able to positively influence how each child’s temperament interacts with the world around them.

Related: When Mama Sits Down: A Mother’s Poem Written Through Her Child’s Eyes

By meeting their attachment needs through attachment parenting — through ensuring that I’m prepared for parenting at each stage, that I feed them with love and respect, that I respond with warmth and sensitivity, that I offer nurturing touch, that I ensure healthy sleep, that I provide consistent and loving care, that I practice positive discipline, and that I strive for my own life’s balance — my babies have blossomed into children whose emotional maturity, creative expression, and coping skills far outstripped my own at the same ages.

Attachment parenting was the single best decision I made as a parent of a high-needs baby.

Photo credit:  Oksana Shufrych / Shutterstock

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