What to Do When Your Baby is High Needs
I don’t remember a whole lot about the first few weeks after Butterfly was born. I mean, I do remember, but much of it is sort of a blur with just a few moments standing out sharply against the rest.
One of those moments was standing in a lactation consultant’s office with a veteran IBCLC and hearing her say, “You’re doing a great job. You just have a hard baby. I had one like that and I still remember what a struggle it was; it’s a very tough time, but you’ll make it.”
It probably sounds odd, but those were the most encouraging and freeing words to me. I went from feeling like my mothering instincts and efforts were totally failing to feeling empowered that I was doing all the right things and just needed to stick it out.
Now don’t get me wrong: my sweet girl is and has always been the happiest, most fun, most delightful child ever (though I might be a bit biased).
But she was/is also very intense. And sleeping is something she has never really gotten into. Or rather, she doesn’t mind sleeping, it’s just that the whole “going to sleep” and “staying asleep” thing is inconvenient to her voracious appetite for anything that involves not sleeping.
Add to that that Butterfly is fantastic at expressing her feelings (and especially in those early days it was mostly letting us know what she *didn’t* like- which included basically anything that wasn’t nursing or at least being held) and that was pretty much a summary of my life for the first few months.
I’m only a few years into this mothering thing so I’m no expert by any means, but here’s some things I know now that I wish I had known then.
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1. Your baby is not any other baby.
I know this sounds obvious, but it took me a while to understand just how unique every baby is. Just because your baby doesn’t do things the way they’re “supposed to” doesn’t mean you’re doing something wrong. Take all of the “supposed to”s with a grain of salt, and do what seems best for YOUR baby.
This one clicked for me finally when I asked a mom group how in the world I was supposed to get my baby to stay asleep while I laid her down.
The dominant answer was to lay her down when she was drowsy, but not asleep. And I wanted to scream because I didn’t know how to do that, and felt that obviously I was missing some big magical parenting skill. Then I realized it wasn’t that I was un-magical. It was that my baby doesn’t do drowsy. Seriously, any time she has fallen asleep it has been an accident on her part. It wasn’t bad advice, it just didn’t match my baby.
2. There is such a thing as an easy/easier baby and their parenting didn’t make them that way.
Babies have different personalities, just like adults. There is such a thing as a chilled out baby (I have one now). That yours is not one of them does not make you a bad parent.
When parenting a High Needs baby, it can be tempting feel guilty because you think surely you’ve done something or aren’t doing something that is making them this way. Hear this: IT IS NOT YOUR FAULT. They just have a different level of needs than other babies, and you are doing an amazing job as a parent as you respond to those needs.
3. How long, how often, how regularly, and where your baby sleeps are not measurements of your success.
Go ahead and learn a polite or funny answer to give whenever people ask about sleep and move on. I settled on “She’s doing great!” It was two years before Butterfly slept through the night on her own, and we created our version of a Montessori Bed to make even that happen.
To this day she doesn’t need as much sleep as her peers and is up before the sun every morning. How and how much she sleeps doesn’t make me a bad parent; it makes me an awesome one for recognizing and responding to her needs, even when they seem greater or different than average.
Find what works for you and go with it until it doesn’t work for you anymore; then change! Some babies sleep great by themselves from Day 1; some babies scream relentlessly if you just think about putting them down. Don’t let yourself feel judged for doing what you feel is best for your baby, whatever that looks like.
4. Ask other moms for advice! And then ignore a lot of it.
Other moms are there and have been there! Most of the time, somewhere in all the advice is an idea that will work for your baby- you just have to figure out which one it is!
And then honor the rest as advice that worked well for someone else, and ignore it- or store it away as possibly helpful for your next baby. And talking to other moms will often lead you to that other person who says those wonderful words: “Mine too.”
5. You will make it, and it will get better.
Eventually my baby would go in the car seat without screaming. She even FELL ASLEEP in it sometimes. It was amazing. I used to watch my friends with their newborns asleep in their car seats and wonder what sort of fairy dust I was missing out on.
When she moved past screaming in the car, it was blissful to be able to travel out of the house without feeling like I was torturing my child! But for the first couple of months I thought that day would never come. But she grew up. And it happened. So hang in there. It gets better.
6. Once you’ve assured yourself that your child is unique and that doesn’t make you a bad mom, quit comparing.
Be happy for the mom who gets a shower every day or whose kid sleeps more than an hour at a time at night. That’s wonderful. It’s tempting to feel like you have to “prove” yourself to those moms, but you don’t. You are an awesome mom just the way you are and your baby is amazing just the way he/she is. Accept it and let the rest go.
7. A hard baby is not a burden.
My little girl is a blessing, no matter what. She is beautiful, wonderful, smart, and fun. Some days the challenges will eclipse the joy for a few moments, but the joy will come back with that next giggle or smile or hand grabbing your face. It cannot be said emphatically enough: you hold in your arms an amazing treasure!
My hard baby has grown into a beautiful 3yo with just as big of a personality as she had when she was a newborn. The intense crying has turned into a large vocabulary and the ability to express her feelings very well (which has it’s own challenges as a 3yo, but that’s another post!), and her appetite for life is still just as big and contagious.
She still doesn’t need much sleep, but even that can have it’s benefits- she’s more flexible if we need her to be, so we get to have more adventures. And this girl is going to rule a country or run a company or something one day, seriously.
So to the new mom with a hard baby: hang in there.
It WILL get better. You are an amazing mom. Your baby is beautiful. And it’s worth it.
I’ve create a pack of Scripture Cards and a post about Practical Coping Strategies for Anxiety for Moms to encourage you- be sure and check them out! To download the Scripture cards, just put your email in the box below.
Do you have a hard baby? Tell me about them in the comments- I would love to hear from a fellow Mama- we’re in this together!