Meeting My High-Needs Baby

When I first heard this phrase I thought “Isn’t high-needs to baby like wet is to fish?” My second thought was “I’m not putting a label on my son.”

Then, at 6:30 in the morning, after a night of constant crying and no sleep; after days of thrashing, screaming and tears (both his and mine); after weeks of trying everything from gas drops to a trip to the pediatrician; I let the idea sink in.


I had been around babies and kids my whole life. My mother used to babysit, I worked at a daycare, I had a clan of nieces and a nephew whom I spent a great deal of time with from birth and beyond. But B is now five months old and I’m learning that he is definitely wired differently. This I was not prepared for.

There were at least four women I knew who were pregnant at the same time I was. We were all due within two months of each other. One by one I watched on Facebook as their babies arrived. They’d post adorable pictures and I’d pat my round tummy with envy. They posted status updates about how sweet and calm their babies were — their babies rarely cried, and most slept through the night early on. I couldn’t wait for my bundle of joy to arrive.

Then our Little Bear arrived and at first everything was joyous. He was adorable, cuddly and a great eater. Within two weeks the joy faded, and by six weeks there was simply none left. He cried constantly, rarely smiled and slept fitfully. His waking hours were spent oscillating from bout to bout of catastrophic, inconsolable screaming. I felt cheated.

Where was my happy baby? Where were my smiles? I worked so hard, I loved him so much, where did I go wrong? Equal to the physical and emotional toll it took on me and my husband, was the worry that B was just simply miserable all the time. And why? I read posts on Baby Center about other crying babies, I read books in hopes I could come up with a lifestyle that would make Bear stop crying (and start sleeping), and I researched everything from reflux to purple crying.

Over the months we’d found he did have a few fixable issues: a bit of silent reflux, a tiny overactive let-down problem on my end and a sensitivity to dairy were all found as legitimate culprits. With the help of our pediatrician, a lactation consultant and (again) more reading we were able to remedy those problems. The crying decreased, he began to smile more.

But he still, at five months, spends the majority of the day fussing/crying and doesn’t sleep a solid block at night.


So at 6:30 a.m. this morning, after waging through another tantrum of cries and screams to get him to go to sleep, I held my sleeping infant and wondered again “What’s wrong?” Once again, I started searching and finally came across something that made sense.

**Alright, I have to say it: I do NOT endorse Dr. Sears, and I have reasons for this that go beyond my feelings about how he frames Attachment Parenting.**

However, his writing on the “high-needs baby” has captured my attention.

Babywearing“In some ways all babies are high need babies, and most babies have high needs in at least one area of their life. Some have more high need areas than others,” Sears says in “12 Features of a High-Needs Baby.” He also explains that every baby can be high needs in one way or another. But my heart sank a little when realizing B hit Every. Single. One. of these attributes.

Sears described the last four months without missing a beat. He listed off the intense meltdowns, voracious but lightening-fast feedings, and the constant need to be held, with a disclaimer: These attributes, while draining, can be channeled into gifts creating an emotionally well-rounded, creative, intense little person.

So maybe it isn’t so bad. Sears says neediness is in the eyes of the parent, and to an extent I believe that. Sure, Bear is more difficult than a lot of babies. But he’s our baby, and he’s just different. He has different needs, and we have to have different expectations. We’re all adjusting here. We’re all growing. All I can hope for is that we get there eventually in one piece.


4 thoughts on “Meeting My High-Needs Baby

  1. I have a love/hate thing with Attachment Parenting. I find that some of it is wonderful and fits perfectly with our family and lifestyle. I feel like in the early months AP just makes sense. But I struggle with my desire to not become a “helicopter parent” and wanting to make sure my son learns independence as he grows.

    I read your blog. Congrats on your little one, I hope you’re enjoying parenting/writing!

  2. After reading your blog, I’m sitting here thinking about how well this description fits my 5 month old. There have been so many days where I’m in tears struggling to find ways to comfort my little guy and nothing seems to help. I am ebf him. We got off to a terrible start, but after all that we went through, I’m so happy that we can finally enjoy nursing together.
    Great entry. I’m looking forward to reading more from you.

    1. I’m constantly told “It does get better” and “This too shall pass” but there are definitely days where I see no light at the end of the tunnel and I feel like I’m losing it. Each week is a new struggle and each week is also more progress. We’ve turned a corner where the happy moments outweigh the meltdowns! Honestly, once I wrapped my mind around the fact that his needs were “different” it became a lot easier to deal with. I hope for happy days ahead with you and your little one too!

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