I have two high needs babies. I know that now. I didn’t know what it was called when I was struggling with sandy. I called him “busy”, “demanding”, “hard work”, “omg please give me two minutes peace” and such, but what I meant was that he was high need.
I don’t know if it’s a great term. It’s meant to be a positive way of describing a baby who requires a lot more of their parent. For some reason to me it sounds a bit negative though? I’m not sure why. But it will suffice.
I recently posted about how my children don’t sleep, and that’s part of it. Frequently waking, not self settling, anti-cot. But there are so many other facets of a high need baby which fit with the characters of sandy and Roslyn.
High need babies are said to be intense, described as “driven” and in a high gear all the time. If that wasn’t an accurate description of sandy I don’t know what is. The boy never stops. He has one speed and one volume and they aren’t slow or quiet, that’s for sure.
Add to this an intensity in reactions and you hit on Roslyn a bit more too. Put her down and walk away and you don’t begin to hear a whinge or cry of dissatisfaction. Nope, she’ll be screaming so vigorously and loudly that you would check to see you lay her on a blanket right enough, not a bed of needles.
Both of my high need babies have been frequent feeders. I would hear of people being able to time their babies need for a feed to the minute. Oh it’s been three hours now, they will need fed. If either of mine went three hours without some boob time I’d be seriously concerned for their welfare. Of course it’s a comfort thing, because it’s hard work being a baby, and the only way to calm down is to suck, it seems.
High need babies are described as demanding and draining. It is said that they suck every thing they can from you and leave you with only enough left to scrape through the day alive and still (kinda) sane. I remember with sandy one day pleading to him “what do you want? I’ve given you every little bit of me and it’s still not enough!” And of course he just looked back at me and gooed, you know, cause he was a baby.
These babies are also unpredictable. By some miracle you manage to find some way of soothing them, you formulate an insanely choreographed dance of sleep with several moves which have to be performed in a precise order and your baby falls asleep. It’s amazing. You did it! You actually solved the problem! No more crying! No more asking “what is wrong!?!”. You know! So the next time your baby is upset (probably within the hour) you smugly settle into your new routine. And does the baby think “oh good, mums doing that thing I like, I’m going to relax”. No. No baby does not. Baby decides that that whole song and dance is absurd and horribly uncomfortable and exactly the opposite of what would induce sleep. Yeah right mum. And fast forward to toddlerhood. You may have finally cracked sleep (well, to some extent, enough that you could drive the car the next day without worrying about falling asleep at the wheel, maybe) but that fickleness prevails. The boy won’t eat, as ever, and you’ve accepted it. So you are out and you get something to snack on and he asks for it, so you offer and, holy crap, he actually EATS it. Amazing. You make a detour on the way home to stock up on this precious nutrition. And as soon as you offer it at home it’s like you served him up a fried turd. And then you find out that the fried turd he so detests is actually a delicacy at grannies house. Along with all sorts of other banished food sources including actual meat and vegetables. Seriously.
High need babies are hard. I like to think it’s a sign of intelligence. They are hard work because they are blooming. That the blooming is disconcerting and frustrating and something worth getting upset over, yet mum’s life doesn’t seem to fit into babies needs. And I think it’s actually this schism between the modern developed life of human adults and the primitive, animal like needs of a young child which create the problems. High need babies wouldn’t be too much of a problem if you could just sleep all day to make up for night wakenings. Or if you could just sit at home all day letting them feed and nap on you. Or if you could devote every minute to their ever changing wants, able to attend to them before they kicked off. But that’s not the way things are.
Despite that though, the best of us come to find natural ways to cope with high need babies. We give up on settling them in a cot because it takes an hour to achieve and then they wake after 20 measly minutes. So we bring them into bed and they sleep and we sleep and the milk bar is open. They won’t be put down so we pick them up. We strap them to us and keep them close and, ok, we can’t do everything, and packing the shopping with an infant on your front isn’t exactly ergonomic, but hey, no-one is crying, and that in itself is a big achievement. And they need us and need us and need us for attention so we give it, and when it’s hard, we call in the cavalry and the wider family give attention and the mum gets a break and it’s all ok.
Sometimes I feel hard done by that I have had two babies who won’t let me rest. Babies who don’t do those one off long sleeps, or have days where they just play and relax. I’m never let off the hook and I can never revel in an unusual lie in or day without them because they don’t mind going with someone else. I see people going on spa weekends baby free and getting full nights sleep because their baby happily accepted bottled from their daddy that night and I feel jealous. I’m not going to lie, it makes me think, “what am I doing wrong?” But the truth is I’m doing nothing wrong. And they are doing nothing wrong. All babies are different and some are more at ease with being a baby than others. It just turns out my babies need more of me, and you know what? It’s so nice to be wanted. There is nothing that can describe the feeling of being the only person in the world who can give that little soul what they need. Being wanted so intensely? It’s incredible. And providing for their every need with merely my body? Wow.
High need babies are hard work. It’s never easy, but it’s always worth it. So if you think you are doing it all wrong, think again. You are doing it the way that works for your baby, and that’s all that matters. Trust your gut, it won’t see you wrong.