Parenting a high-needs baby – Guest Post By Katie at The Squirmy Popple

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Thanks so much for your comments on Charlene’s eye-opening post about pregnancy last week.  This week I’m joined by Katie at The Squirmy Popple

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.

To read more from Katie visit her blog – The Squirmy Popple or find her on Twitter here.  

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38 comments on “Parenting a high-needs baby – Guest Post By Katie at The Squirmy Popple

  1. Really interesting post, I’ve read a little about high needs babies and I totally respect you! Two of my nieces were exactly as you described but the oldest is nearly 16 and has grown up into the most wonderful girl. The other is 5 and still hard work but she’s so clever and adorable and there is never a dull moment with her about! What I’m saying is the Popple is definitely perfect as she is.

  2. YES! Our baby is similar, although has just started to sleep at least 7 hour block at night. But he is hanging off me right now, wingeing and bouncing. He won’t go in a pram or in the car seat and only likes being carried for 30 minutes. I will read more of Dr. Sears because this sounds spot on!

  3. Thanks so much Laura and Katie for sharing this. I could have written this myself about my little boy – at the time it felt like everyone else’s babies were so easy and I would question endlessly what I was doing wrong, or what was wrong with my little boy. But I think once you find the term and accept and understand your baby, then it all becomes so much easier. I know that compared to the baby days, I’m finding toddlerhood a dream in comparison! Although he definitely needs more attention and comfort than lots of other children, I’ve found that every month he gets easier and I think ‘this is the best age!’ – only to re-evaluate the next month!
    Katy – Hot Pink Wellingtons recently posted…The Fear of TwoMy Profile

  4. Great post Katie – it really struck a chord with me. Parenting does get a whole lot easier the second that we adapt to our babies and their needs instead of expecting them to fall into line with our expectations and what “the other babies” are all doing. You’re so right! Life would be very boring if we were all the same. A bit of character makes it more fun!

    Thanks for sharing Laura & thanks for linking up with #fartglitter x

  5. Hi Laura and Katie, when babies don’t act the way the are ‘supposed’ to it’s all to easy to blame ourselves, when in reality they are no different than adults in respect that they are all so different.

    What gets me is the way people judge the parents for the way the baby is, when nothing could be further from the truth. Being a Mum isn’t easy as it it is, but you sound like your are doing an excellent job as working with your babies needs rather than against them.


  6. You have shown great understanding and growth in this post – I love what you’ve written. When Milly was about two I was told she was ‘spirited and stubborn’ and that she would be a handful as she got older. Milly is now a pre-teen and an absolute live-wire – she still doesn’t need much sleep, will love one food today and hate it tomorrow and wakes up every morning with a clean slate (this can be tricky from a discipline perspective!). She never stops, always chatting, always skipping or running or bouncing on the trampoline but she is also incredibly kind, gentle and creative. She may not conform but, like you say ‘she’s perfect just the way she is’. #fartglitter

    1. I love this comment, you daughter sounds wonderful, despite the challenges. Thanks so much for commenting on Katie’s post x

  7. Well this post has been a bit of a revelation to me – it sounds like my child! I’d love to read the article you read if you can point me in the right direction?

    Arthur was also walking by 10 months (crawling at 5) and has never sat still, still doesn’t sleep (16 months) and becomes incredibly upset if separated. We, like you, work with it. He is usually in our bed by midnight (usually earlier if he wakes earlier and we can’t settle him). We struggled with colic and reflux issues when he was small and I had to carry him constantly. He still only naps in HIS pushchair, as long as it is moving. Glad it’s not just me. #fartglitter

  8. Great post! Really interesting read and definitely one that I am sure will be so helpful to other parents with high needs babies. Sometimes all we need is the reassurance that its not just us and its not just our babies. I love discovering posts like these and having a greater awareness for all the possibilities when it comes to little ones. Thanks for sharing this on #MarvMondays. Emily

    1. Absolutely, really happy Ella shared this with us as definitely something that needs highlighting. Thanks for reading x

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