High Need Baby – Fact or Fiction?

High Need Baby – Fact or Fiction?

high need baby

Great excitement! Your contractions are 5 minutes apart. You are whisked off to the maternity hospital, your baby is coming!! At last, your little one makes his or her appearance and instantly you are enthralled. Yes, the baby is crying, but that is normal – all babies should cry straight after the birth – it helps clear their lungs and airways.

Now fast wind forward…you are home after 2 or 3 days in the hospital. And your baby won’t stop crying….you try everything – cuddling, swaddling, feeding, nappy changes…and still, he or she is shrieking. Is it colic? Is something drastically wrong? So off you go to your doctor or clinic. Nope, everything checks out ok, nothing wrong with this baby. So what is it that makes YOUR baby different from your friend’s newborn who is sleeping, eating and pooping at regular hours and only crying for food or when he or she is tired? Could your baby be a high need baby?

There have been “fussy” babies since the beginning of time. We are all used to the term a “colicky” baby and we try all the medications – sometimes it IS colic but sometimes no medication works. Nowadays for this fussy, colicky baby we use the term first coined by a Dr Sears – the fussy baby has become the “high need” baby.

How do you know if your gorgeous little boy or girl is high need? If your baby has one or more of the characteristics listed below, you may be nurturing a high need baby!

But before going any further…as a new parent, if your baby seems to have one or more of the characteristics listed, always, always, always first check with your doctor that all is well physiologically with your baby before jumping to the conclusion that you have a high need baby!

1: High need babies are very intense. If your baby clenches his or her tiny fists, arches his or her back and tenses their muscles as if he/she were about to enter a marathon, this is what is known as an  “intense” baby. With this type of temperament your baby may become a “driven” toddler, seemingly in high gear all the time. This is not all doom and gloom though, as this intense drive may lead your baby into being  a toddler who has a higher level of creativity than that of other toddlers. Not a bad thing, in the long run, methinks!

2: The high need child will probably be labelled “hyperactive” at some stage but at what stage a normally active child is labelled as being “hyperactive” is a moot point. Calling a busy toddler “hyperactive” when he is just being a busy little person is not a diagnosis but is merely a description meaning that he is always running around and involving himself because of his creative and intense nature. Place a creative, intense and enthusiastic child in the company of shy and reserved children and some may instantly leap to the wrong conclusion that he is hyperactive. These very active little people may be hard to keep up with at times, but this activity is not necessarily a negative trait. In fact some world movers and shakers were at one time or another labelled as being “hyperactive” as a child.

3: A lot of high need babies are considered by their parents to be “draining and demanding” as they often seem to need frequent feeding and attention so that by the end of the day, the parents feel as if all the energy has been sucked out of them. And then it continues throughout the night!! Unfortunately for us moms, baby has not yet learnt what the word “schedule” means and he will take whatever fuel he needs from you and won’t seem at all perturbed about the fact that he may be leaving your tank empty!

4: Some parents complain that their baby never seems to sleep, or “awakens frequently”. You would think that a little being who has high needs and is therefore, more alert and reactive than other babies would need more sleep, not less! Not so. Just as with adults, some babies need less sleep than their little counterparts.

5: One other characteristic of a high need baby is that they seem to be “super sensitive”. They are keenly aware of what is going on in their surroundings and seem to prefer a secure and known environment and will loudly announce their unhappiness when you take them out of their comfort zone! They seem to startle easily at loud sounds and take a while to settle down at night time

startle reflex

So, it seems that a high need baby is indeed fact and not fiction and adaptive parenting styles may be necessary to handle a high need baby. You may find yourself accommodating your baby in ways you swore you would not be subjected to! It may mean you have to stay home most of the time as baby will only sleep using his usual sleep routine that you have established. Or holding and swinging or rocking your baby until he sleeps. You may also have to be flexible and understanding about solid foods – some high need babies are very sensitive to different tastes and textures and take a while to become accustomed to them. You may also need to adopt a more flexible and gentle approach to discipline rather than the old school way of harsh punishments. A lot of people may think that the adaptive parent is spoiling their baby and letting the baby rule them, but most parents of high need babies are using these strategies because it handles the temperament of their baby and it works for them.




In conclusion, if you do have a high need baby, do not despair, as even the most fussy, defiant and difficult high need baby can turn into a well-behaved, decent little child. They do learn how to behave socially and, with help from their parents, these little ones learn to cope with their intense feelings and emotions. Although they will probably remain sensitive throughout life and prefer a predictable routine, they do outgrow the “high need” mode eventually!

Yours in photography


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