High Need Baby Flails his Arms
BabyE showing off his BIG personality.

I was driving down the too-narrow urban freeway, confined by concrete on three sides. A moment of clarity struck. BabyE was that “high-need” baby that all the books talk about. I had just been with several friends that had babies around the same age. Their babies sat still and contented in car seats or their mothers’ arms and then quietly drifted off to sleep. The moms spoke of babies sleeping five, six, even eight hours at a time at night. All the while my Baby was squealing, standing, bouncing, looking all around, arching, nearly doing flips off my lap and definitely NOT sleeping. Keeping him fuss-free for the hour and a half felt like a physical and emotional wrestling match. 

I shared my epiphany with DH that afternoon, BabyE is happy and delightful, but he needs a LOT more attention than other babies.  He must have done some quick googling and moments later he sent me back a link to Dr. Sears’ 12 Features of a High Need Baby with the caption, Wow! Can you say 12 features that describe BabyE? 

The features are intense, hyperactive, draining, feeds frequently, demanding, awakens frequently, unpredictable, super-sensitive, can’t put baby down, not a self soother, and separation sensitive. 

As I read the list of characteristics now, I literally laugh out loud at how accurately each one of them describes the personality of my Baby.  At the time though, this realization brought tears for both of us. It was cathartic finally having a label for all of the struggle and exhaustion we were feeling.  He is our first baby, so it was easy to assume that he is what all babies are like. We didn’t know anything different. For the longest time, when people would ask if he was sleeping through the night, we would look at them like they were insane. Babies don’t do that! Do they?  We now know that some do, but ours doesn’t.  

The high need label also gave us encouragement.  Having a high need baby isn’t all challenge. It also entails lots of positives.  High need babies tend to be sensitive, empathetic, and creative. These are three traits that I would be thrilled if BabyE grows up to possess. 

High Need Baby wearing shirt that says "Hello my name is Trouble"
Hello, my name is TROUBLE. 

To be honest, I had skimmed past the chapters about high need babies in every baby book I’d read in preparation for parenthood. I was so certain that the baby of two laid back quiet people would automatically follow the family disposition.  Not so. It turns out nature has been stronger than nurture for this baby from the very beginning.  I always thought the concept of kick counts was just one of those crazy paranoid things What to Expect When You’re Expecting told you to do.  Ten kicks in two hours seemed like a joke while I was experiencing twenty times that many around the clock. After he was born, I saw the source of all the punches to the inside of my pelvis during pregnancy.  Whenever awake, Baby was very active doing what we call flappy jacks, flailing arms and legs constantly.  

Some will say that it is our attachment style of parenting that has caused BabyE to be the way he is. If we would only let him cry it out, they say.  I must admit, the thought has crossed my mind in my most vicious moments of mommy-guilt.  Is it all my fault?  In clearer moments, I’m pretty confident that this is who he is, and it is up to us to figure out how to direct and nurture his active personality

I believe it is attachment parenting that has mitigated a lot of the challenges that we may have had from the beginning. I was very careful to breastfeed on request, especially in the early weeks. I studied Baby’s cues and responded before he could get worked up.  At six weeks he was still eating every 45 minutes to an hour. At six months, he prefers to feed every 90 minutes. Though his doctor indicates that is not a typical frequency, she has concluded he simply a person who enjoys eating. Indeed! 

This also carries over to nighttime where he still wakes every two hours to nurse. I can imagine how much more exhausted I would be if it weren’t for co-sleeping.  It would be much harder if I had to fully wake up each time, walk to a crib, and pick up a baby who was by then crying his head off and try to comfort him back to sleep.  Instead, I don’t even open my eyes or turn on a light.  I reach over to the co-sleeper, or roll over if he’s already in bed with me, allow him to latch, both of us still half asleep. 

Another issue we have somewhat avoided through attachment parenting is being unable to put Baby down. Baby-wearing has given me a lot more freedom to get things done throughout the day without listening to a whole bunch of fussing.  Unfortunately, there are still some tasks such as chopping vegetables or cooking at a hot stove which require putting Baby down, and when I do he voices his protest. 

I wish I could tie a bow on this post and tell you that our new understanding of Baby has made our lives so much easier. In some ways, it has. On days that lead me to vent, He’s just SO…,  DH reminds me that Baby is indeed a special challenge that requires extraordinary energy. It simply validates the exhaustion that starts to overwhelm. It doesn’t make it go away though. Some days of parenting still leave me feeling raw and empty. Still, I wouldn’t wish for BabyE to be any other way. Life with him is always exciting. He brings an energy to this home which wasn’t here before. If we had a calm baby who slept all the time we wouldn’t know what to do. We would probably think him or her boring!

In a way I feel a little silly writing this article for a carnival about parenting kids with special needs. I know there are so many out there gracefully parenting in much more challenging situations than I am.  Also, there’s the fact that all babies are high need to some extent. They are babies after all, and they all present their different challenges.  I appreciate your patience with me as I muse about our particular journey. 

Early on my smart mother sensitively told me she thought BabyE was demanding.  To which I replied, Oh Mom you just don’t remember what babies are like.  Turns out she was right.  You are going to think your next baby is SO easy, she assures me. Lord, you wouldn’t bless me with two high need babies in a row would you?

Are you the parent of a high need baby? I’d love it if you’d share your tips for surviving and thriving!



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