Coping with a High Needs Baby

There are 2 opposing philosophies about newborns. One is that they are a tabula rasa –- a blank slate that can be molded as the parents see fit. The other, more accepted theory is that babies are born with their own personalities, likes and dislikes and way of looking at the world.

Some babies are calm from the moment that they enter the world while others are difficult, fussy, demanding and unsettled from day one. If you have a high needs baby, what can you do to ease the baby’s (and your) life?

What is a High Needs Baby?

Definitions differ about what exactly constitutes a high needs baby. The mother or father of a high needs baby will, however, know exactly what a high needs baby is!

Child development professionals have identified a number of characteristics of a high needs baby. They include:

  • The baby never seems satisfied. He’s very difficult to please and just as you think that you’ve find a strategy that makes him happy, he’ll turn around and make it clear that he doesn’t like that any more.
  • The baby is “intense.” It’s hard for her to be around too many other people or stimuli and she needs quiet and calm more than other youngsters. The baby seems to put more energy into everything that she does – she cries more loudly, feeds more voraciously and protests more forcefully if things aren’t happening according to her wishes.  They seem to feel things more deeply and then react more powerfully if everything doesn’t happen the way that they wish. The most common sentence that parents of such a child utter is “nothing seems to help.”
  • The baby does not like to be put down. At all. Ever. He craves physical contact, movement, and the sensations that come from being in a caregiver’s arms. Some of these babies are cuddly so at least you can sooth them when they’re being held. Others find it hard to enjoy being held, even though they’re not happy when they’re not being held either.
  • The baby is demanding. She wants to be held/fed/rocked immediately and has no patience to wait for anything or anyone.
  • The baby seems hyperactive, with tense muscles that never seem to relax. These babies can’t be wrapped, even as newborns. The term used may be “hypertonic ” and can be treated through physical and occupational therapy.
  • The baby doesn’t sleep. He doesn’t “learn to sleep” and isn’t able to get past this stage by “crying it out” a few times before he “learns” to drift off to sleep. The more he cries the more hysterical he gets which then prevents him from sleeping. Even once he’s asleep, every little noise or movement awakens him.

What to Do?

Many parents will recognize these characteristics – sometimes their baby has some of the characteristics of a high-needs child and sometimes she has all of the characteristics.

What strategies can help?

If you ask the “experts” you’ll get platitudes – take it easy, call in a friend and my favorite …. remember, this will pass.  But if you ask other mothers and people who have real life experience with such children, they can give you some good advice that will help you through the first year.

  1. Check for allergies and other sensitivities. Maybe there’s something in the baby’s diet or environment that’s upsetting her physically. Try changing the formula if it’s a bottle-fed baby or having the mother eliminate some traditional-allergenic foods (beans, cabbage, milk products) if the baby is nursing. Have the baby evaluated by a pediatrician. Maybe she has fluid in her ears that is impacting on her comfort level or is suffering from  silent reflux. If so and if you are nursing, you might want to reduce the acid levels of the breast milk (with minerals, salts, minerals, & baking soda), and eat fresh garlic.
  2. Have the baby evaluated for hyper-sensitivity issues. If he’s hypersensitive he may be reacting to stimuli that don’t bother other people. Therapists can help a baby overcome these sensitivity issues.
  3. Put a noise machine (white noise) in the baby’s room when she’s sleeping. This can drown out noises that may be affecting her sleep and help lull her to lull herself into a drowsy mood. It’s important that the noise machine not be set at above 50 decibels and that you place any white noise machines at least 7 feet away from the baby’s crib. It’s also a good idea to lower the volume on the machine so it offers a soft “hmmmmmm” rather than a loud noise.
  4. Make sure that your baby learns to associate bedtime with a routine. Establishing a bedtime routine, which may include a warm bath, some singing, some nursing/bottle and some patting or massaging and rocking, is a good way to prepare the little one for sleepytime. 2009 research demonstrated that a relaxing bedtime routine resulted in“significant reductions in problematic sleep behaviors for infants and toddlers.” Every parent has the opportunity to create a routine that fits that family’s schedule and needs.
  5. Try to avoid responding instantly to nighttime wakenings. Studies show that going to a baby as soon as he wakes up can increase the frequency of such wakenings.
  6. Research whether pediatric chiropractic help may be of assistance. It doesn’t work 100% of the time but it is said to work in certain cases.
  7. Wear the baby as much as possible in a baby wrap, either on your stomach or, for an older baby, on your back. You can do housework, cook, work on the computer or play mobile casino games while your baby is getting the care and attention that she needs. 

It may be helpful to consider what Dr. William Sears, an acknowledged expert on high needs babies – and the father of one such child – wrote about high-needs children.  One of the most difficult mental adjustments for parents to make is overcoming the fear of “being manipulated” and “losing control.” Once you make the switch in mind-set to believing that your baby is communicating her needs, not controlling your lives, thriving and surviving with a high-need baby will be much easier.”  LaAdrian Waddle Authentic Jersey

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