Mothering a High Needs Baby

By Lynn Shattuck for Brain, Child: The Magazine for Thinking Mothers

 

After my first son Max was born, I wanted answers.

My little red-faced infant wanted to nurse every twenty minutes. He woke up six or more times a night. The ‘quiet alert’ phase that we had heard about—the one we had imagined our peaceful, silk-cheeked baby silently gazing at us while inhaling the landscape of our faces—was non-existent.

Long days dripped by in a haze of milk and tears — both of ours. Our pediatrician said it wasn’t colic; nursing soothed him. And Max didn’t save his sadness for just the witching hour — any hour of the day or night was fair game. In my attempts to ‘fix’ my son, I lugged him to osteopaths and homeopaths. I went on an elimination diet consisting of brown rice and carrots. I spent hours with him hooked to my breasts while I searched the Internet for solutions. For ways to make him happier. To make us both happier.

In my research, I came across an article by Dr. Sears, a leading proponent of attachment parenting. Dr. Sears described ‘High Needs Babies”—how they tend to sleep poorly and require constant holding and attention. The article suggested my son’s temperament as who he was, who he was born to be. Not something to fix. I was a bit devastated by this theory; if I couldn’t fix it, the tears and sleepless nights would continue. We were already utilizing many of Dr. Sears’ suggestions for calming our ‘High Needs Baby’—co-sleeping was the only way for any of us to get rest. I carried him in the Ergo so often, I felt like the skin on my shoulders was absorbing the straps. I nursed on demand—and the demand was high.

The only thing that really helped was time. Ever so slowly, our nursing sessions stretched out. After about sixteen months, Max finally started piecing together four or six hour stretches of sleep.

Max is four and a half now. He’s been weaned for a few years, and he usually sleeps through the night. But he is still intense. When he’s happy, he’s down-to-the-toes effervescent. And when he’s not — which is often — he’s a shrieking, writhing tempest of misery.

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