I didn’t really know many babies before having my own, so when she came along, I kind of assumed all babies were like her – adorable, wiggly and inexplicably furious. Then I started to go to mum & baby groups, and it hit me:
My baby was different.
The other babies sat quietly on their mother’s laps while the mums chatted and had a cup of tea. Mine squirmed and fussed. When those babies who were breastfeeding were hungry, they made a small cry, then latched onto their mum’s nipple and drank calmly. Mine pulled on and off my breast, arching her back and screaming. When the other babies were tired, their mums put them in the pram and they fell asleep almost instantly. Mine would only sleep in the pram if it was it was moving, waking up the second it stopped.
My baby was worse than different. My baby was difficult.
People offered lots of different explanations for her fussiness – colic, reflux, gas, dairy intolerance – and I set about trying everything I could think of to fix it. I fed her upright and propped up her moses basket. I cut out dairy from my diet. I winded her after every feed and carried her in the baby carrier as much as possible. I gave her Infacol and Gaviscon. She remained perpetually pissed off. I was convinced the problem was me. I was a bad parent, clearly.
And then I came across the term that changed everything: high-needs baby.
The term, coined by paediatrician and attachment parenting proponent Dr Sears, describes babies whose personalities simply demand…more. They can be hyperactive and draining (she never stopped moving). They can’t self-soothe and awaken frequently at night (she hardly slept, day or night). They are often unpredictable, demanding and unsatisfied (something that calmed her down one day would make her hysterical the next). They’re separation sensitive and can’t be put down (she screamed when I wasn’t holding her).
I showed the article to my husband. “This is her!” I said, excitedly. “He’s talking about our baby!” The more I read, the better I felt. There was nothing wrong with her or my parenting. She just had a very intense little personality, and I needed to figure out how to parent her.
And I did. It started with not expecting her to be like other babies. You don’t like sitting still in a cafe? Fine, I’ll bring lots of toys to distract you, and we won’t stay for very long. You can’t breastfeed calmly when there are lots of distractions? Fine, I’ll find a quiet place to feed you. You can’t fall sleep without some help? Fine, I’ll keep pushing the pram until you nod off – I need to work off all the cake I’m eating anyway.
It was never easy, but it did get easier. My high-needs newborn is now a spirited 10-month- old. She still hates sitting still (especially now that she can walk) and remains a fussy eater (her food preferences change daily, and most of her meal ends up on the floor). She’s a slightly less terrible sleeper, but still pretty bad. However, I’ve stopped wishing that she was an ‘easy’ baby. How boring would it be if my baby wasn’t in constant motion, desperate to explore everything she sees? If she didn’t change her mind from day to day, as she learns new things about the world and what it has to offer? If she didn’t let me know – loudly – what she wants and when she wants it?
She is perfect just the way she is.
But if she wanted to sleep a bit more, that would be okay too.