The Reality of Having a High Needs Baby

All babies are different and can be difficult at times, but having a high needs baby is an experience few understand until it is their reality.

In 2012, I delivered my second child, who was complicated and clingier when compared to my first child. My first was Miss Independent from the start. She loved to lay on the floor and kick. She loved everyone, and she still does eight years later. So, when my clingy second child arrived, I was baffled.

We made it through and went on to have our third child. He was such a relaxed baby. It was a relief after my second, but nothing prepared me for my fourth and final child.

Related: My Uterus Ruptured During My C-Section

My Days with a High Needs Baby

Dealing with a high needs baby is drastically different than having a baby who is happy and easy. My days look so much different, and everything is a hundred times harder than it should be otherwise.

My day starts off with my daughter and I waking up together because we never are separate. She nurses, and she might be happy for a few moments until I drag myself out of bed. I put her into the highchair or an exersaucer so I can go to the bathroom and make coffee – my lifeline – and she typically screams the entire time.

You see, my daughter hates to be apart from me, at all. Looking at me isn’t enough; she has to be in my arms. Sometimes, being in my arms isn’t enough because I’m looking somewhere other than at her.

Most of my chores are completed with her in a baby carrier because setting down on the floor without mom right beside her isn’t an option. If I decide to sit down on the floor while she plays, she is content, but having 4 kids and homeschooling means I’m busy often!

We make it through, hour by hour. When I’m able to put her down and she is happy to play with her siblings, I race around like a nutcase trying to accomplish things.

Other times, I feel utterly trapped by her. I love my daughter wholeheartedly, but it is hard to be the only thing and person who she enjoys. She loves her dad from afar, but he may NOT touch her. She screams as if she is set on fire unless I hold her. That means it is rare for her not to be in my arms at family parties, the store, the park, or anywhere.

She is with me constantly.

Some days, I beg her eight-year-old sister to hold her so she doesn’t cry, allowing me to get a shower. The only person she likes other than me is her sister. Her brothers are amusing from afar, but they aren’t allowed to touch her either.

Before anyone asks, my daughter is perfectly healthy and happy. She squeals with delight half the day and loves to play with her toys. She laughs, rolls, sits up, and exceeds her milestones, but everything must be done under her terms. Her terms aren’t easy to follow!

You Can’t Make a High Needs Baby

One thing I face often is people telling me that I created a high needs baby.  But, that’s a lie and impossible. You might be able to tell a first-time mother that and she believes you, which is a great way to make a mom feel terrible, by the way. However, I am a seasoned mom with four kids, and I’ve parented all of my kids the same way. They’re all different, and it is entirely dependent on their personality and their wiring.

Both of my high need kids started at birth – literally. They cried more. They hated to lay down in their bassinet, and getting them to sleep anywhere other than my arms is literally impossible.

All of the tricks and tips you read don’t help. You can babywear all day, use probiotics, visit every chiropractor in a two hundred mile radius, and it won’t matter. None of these things will change your child’s personality and unique needs, and the only way to survive is to ride the wave the best that you can.

It Does Come to an End

Despite the fact that my fourth child is even needier than my second (which I didn’t think was possible), I know that this season will come to an end. All seasons come to an end.

Related: When You Are Pregnant with Your Last Baby

Truth be told, it’s the only way I survive some days.

People tell you to enjoy the snuggles – which I do – and to let the dishes sit dirty – which I do too often, but none of those are helpful. First, it makes me feel like crap because sometimes I don’t enjoy the snuggles, because I already cuddled for the past five hours straight. I’m tapped out.

Two, I let the dishes sit dirty often. I put off chores because she is having a rougher day than usual, but all that does is increase my anxiety as I want the clutter created by six people to build up.

Telling me to babywear more doesn’t help; I already do babywear for several hours per day. It’s nice to not be touched sometimes.

So, if you are blessed to not know the demands of a high-needs baby, don’t disregard someone who tells you their child is difficult. Instead, ask them what you can do for them. If you need some ideas, try one of these:

  • Hold the baby so mom can get a shower.
  • Offer to wash dishes and clean up the kitchen.
  • Take the baby for a walk.
  • If the baby is with mom, ask if you can grab her a cup of tea or run the vacuum.

If you were trapped by a baby all day long, what would you love if someone did for you? Think about it, and offer to do one of those. It will be greatly appreciated.

Sometimes, we believe that positive and attachment parenting will help reduce the ‘neediness’ of our babies because we anticipate and meet their needs as they occur.

But as Dr. Bill Sears tells us, to some degree, every baby is a high-needs baby. In fact, most babies have high needs in some area (at least one) of their life, but some babies have more high needs areas than others. Dr. Sears says that new parents are not as realistic to expectations becuse they don’t have experience with which they compare, while more experienced parents may have wider views of what a baby is ‘typically’ like. The reality is, just as our author said, your baby acts as your baby does because it’s her wiring and her personality, not necessarily your parenting.

Which can be hard to remember sometimes, when you put so much time and effort and thoughtful parenting into play when it comes to your high-needs baby. You may wonder what it is that you’re doing wrong, particularly if you compare to other babies. That goes for comparing your little one to her siblings, even.

In the over four decades of his practice, Dr. Sears has come across many high babies. He and his colleagues have put together some profiles of different high needs babies to give you a better idea of what may be going on with your baby. None of the personality traits make one baby’s needs better or worse to have; they simply show differences in babies, and recognize that these differences may make it hard to parent them.

Dr. Sears says the ultimate goal when parenting high needs babies is to identify these unique features in their children and to help teach the child to use their traits to work toward their advantage. It’s important for you to recognize these traits in your children for both your sanity and their development, and doing so can help you feel less alone and more empowered.

Photo credit: Eugene Kocherva/Shutterstock

8 thoughts on “The Reality of Having a High Needs Baby”

  1. Thank you so much for this article, I totally see myself and my daughter in it. Unfortunately, I am the first-mother and even now, when she is 6 already, I don´t have guts to have another baby. Often I envy mothers with easy-going children, I remember all those things I couldn´t do. Once I asked my niece to take care of my daughter so I could bake some christmas cakes. That only time she managed to sleep 3 hours straight. It was hard times, really. Today she is wonderful girl, quite independent, everybody adores her how amazing she is. That is my treat, I think.

  2. Currently in the throes of a high needs baby (3 months) and a now spirited toddler (2 years). I haven’t felt this kind of breakdown of myself before. It is so INTENSE. To need to carry or wear constantly while having to try and potty train/run down the older one is just too much sometimes. I felt (still feel sometimes) lucky to stay at home with them but it’s currently 50/50 as to whether I should try to go back to work for my own sanity. I know I’ll miss it when they are older, just not all of it.

  3. My fourth was also my high needs child. When she was about 4, I had pretty much ad enough and people were telling me that I was “spoiling” her so I decided to force some distance. Then I read an article in Mothering about meeting your child’s needs because we don’t know how they’re feeling or what they are going through. In the article, it turned out the child was very sick but not diagnosed yet. I decided

    Five years later, she was diagnosed with Tourette’s syndrome and I began to understand her need for closeness from me. Such early stages especially in infancy are not really recognized but I noticed the pattern with two other children who later were diagnosed with TS and have talked to many other parents who described their children with TS the same way when they were younger.

    I continued to meet her needs which gave her the foundation for moving beyond them. She’s now 24 and a powerhouse of confidence. She has to deal with her TS which not only includes tics (that you wouldn’t notice) but also OCD which is part of the package. I’m grateful that for all those years with the support of Mothering, I was able to meet her needs and watch her grown into the successful and beautiful young woman she is today.

  4. SUCH A GOOD READ!!! Feeling much more sane these days with lil miss high maintenance now going on 2.5 years, but man that first 18months was rough as hell – could nearly liken it to having ptsd. Currently 30weeks pregnant with #2 and quite anxious I will have another koala-baby, but will be much more mentally prepared this time and aware of when I need to put my hand up and say I need a break. Have definitely have had those moments of jealousy with other friends and their easy going bundles and bristled with frustration at people telling me I made her that way (soooooo maddening to hear!!!). Fingers, toes and eyes crossed that this next lil treasure is a cruiser. Big love to all the other mums out there with high needs babes, the storm does pass so hang in there. xxx

  5. Yes, yes, yes. YES. Why doesn’t anyone like you live near me? My daughter is 3 years and 4 months old. She’s STILL clingy. But now I can take long showers at least. I too had to do everything with her in a carrier. People don’t get it. It’s not just “let them cry” because THIS kind of child cries with a shuddering hysteria that you just can’t leave, and they DON’T just wind down after a while. And my daughter has no health issues, her cognitive skills are fine, she does 100 piece puzzles herself at just turned three, (but I have to be in the room near her!) has an awesome vocabulary and humor, plays fiddle and is learning to tell time. It is still overwhelming. Much better, but overwhelming. She does adore my husband but mama is still #1. We have still not left her with a sitter but are working on getting to the point we can leave her with my closest friend, who is her “honorary” grandma (our parents are deceased and we have no relatives or close friends near). Yes, it was not how I expected. She’s beautiful, brilliant, hilarious, adorable and everyone loves her. (She couldn’t stand ANYONE touching or holding her except me or my husband, from age 4 months until about age 2.5!). Now she is friendly, and a ham. But as another commenter here wrote, it was not as I had expected… I had expected to take her to town, walk with her cooing in the stroller… NOPE! In the carrier. Driving anywhere was a NIGHTMARE (and she’s still not good in the car for longer than 45 minutes but hey, she used to shriek endlessly after 5 minutes, so – for us – that’s progress…). Only ONE MOM I’ve ever met got it. At a family Christmas party the wife of one of my husband’s co-workers had a daughter our girl’s age, her second. She called her first daughter was her “trick baby” because she was so easy, she thought babies were simple until her second child came along. I said, “You too?!” She looks at me and says “Velcro.” “YES, VELCRO!” “And ALWAYS on the boob!” “Yes! Always, always!” “Couldn’t put her down” “Never, ever!” “Did you cook with her in the carrier too?” “Always in the carrier” That conversation was so validating. I only met her once, but I will never forget her. No other mom I’ve ever met (in person) has ever understood me. Only online have I read other moms with similar experiences. Thank you for your article… That said, I sometimes feel guilty because I am complaining about my child who is in perfect health, etc… you know, i think of mothers with children with diseases like leukemia, etc and feel like I have no right to feel like it’s so hard…

  6. Wondering just when it all “came to an end” with your high-need children? And please don’t promote the term “crunchy”, which is horrible, and I would hope that the type of people who use that as a description aren’t the type that would be here on this forum.

  7. I could have written this. My first was/is high needs, and the pediatrician who attended her birth told me she was high strung (which I thought was a nonsense thing to say about a newborn until I took her home and didn’t sleep again for three years). A counselor told me I made her high needs because I was so worried she was going to die in utero (I had lost three previously). I did a lot of Google searching while cluster feeding through the witching hour(s) and assuring myself that this was just the 4th trimester. But that came and went. I think I ate beef jerky and cashews for 6 months because I couldn’t cook dinner, and I just resigned myself to taking it one day at a time. It couldn’t possibly last forever. She’s 3.5 now and our life is drastically different, but she’s still a demanding little tyrant who is a poor sleeper. Easy going Baby Sister bolstered my confidence in parenting and solidified my own belief that NO, I did not do anything to make my firstborn high needs. Thanks for the article. I don’t think my friends and family truly get it (except my mom, who wasn’t able to hold her grandchild for 22 months, and my husband of course who held her angry screaming body while I showered every evening and slept in another room for half a year).

  8. My eldest is “spirited” and has been from the start. At 6 years old now things have considerably evened out – but there’s still an intensity that causes friction some moments or days.

    This book is a must read if you have a spirited little one (or a need to kindly educate someone): “Raising Your Spirited Child,” by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka. It has certainly helped me!

    Much love to anyone with a spirited child. Some moments and days aren’t easy, but there is always a bright side – or at least an end. “This too shall pass” as it’s said, and it does. 🙂 ♥️

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