While frantically trawling the Internet trying to determine why MM won’t sleep (and then stay asleep when he eventually does fall asleep) I came across the following characteristics courtesy of Dr Sears (can’t work out how to credit the link!) I think everyone to some extent has a high needs baby (after all they can’t do things for themselves yet), but my little munch displays most of the 12 characteristics described below:
1. Intense: The cry of a high need baby is not a mere request, it’s an urgent demand. These babies put more energy into everything they do. They cry loudly, feed voraciously, laugh with gusto, and protest more forcefully if their needs are not met to their satisfaction. Because they feel so deeply, they react more powerfully if their feelings are disturbed. “If I don’t feed him as soon as he fusses, he falls apart” is a common statement from the mother of such a baby
Tick… This is MM; he screams if you don’t get it right first time around and/or you don’t do it fast enough!
2. Hyperactive: “There’s no such thing as a still shot” said one photographer-father of a high need baby. “His motor seems stuck in fast idle,” another father commented. These motor traits are part of the baby’s personality. They may be hard to live with at times, but this restlessness is not necessarily a negative trait. Some highly creative, world-changing people were at one time or another labeled hyperactive as a child
Tick… MM gets bored easily. Once he’s had enough we hear about it, although there does seem to be a never-ending fascination with our phones and the TV remote!
3. Draining: Babies take the fuel they need from you without considering whether they leave anything behind in mother’s gas tank. The seemingly constant holding, nursing, and comforting leave little energy left over for your needs.
Tick… He knows just when I want a hot drink, lunch or 5 minutes to sit in quiet!
4. Feeds frequently: “Schedule” is not in the high need baby’s vocabulary. Early on these smart infants learn that the breast or bottle is not only a source of nutrition, but also a source of comfort. In fact, research has shown that non-nutritive sucking (sucking for comfort more than food) is one of the earliest ways babies learn to settle. (Of course, a baby can’t have non-nutritive sucking from a bottle, so pacifiers get added to the repertoire for bottle feeders.
Tick… I have never previously understood how friends’ babies only need to feed every 3-4 hours. Now it’s clearer!!!
5. Demanding: Mothers of high need babies often say, “I just can’t get to him fast enough.” These babies convey a sense of urgency in their signals; they do not like waiting, and they do not readily accept alternatives. Woe to the parent who offers baby the rattle when he is expecting a breast. He will let you know quickly and loudly that you’ve misread his cues. The concept of “delayed gratification” is totally foreign to infants, it must be sensitively and gradually taught when the child is developmentally ready to learn it
Tick… Especially when MM wakes at night and H goes in to soothe him and he’s expecting me!
6. Awakens frequently: “Why do high need babies need more of everything but sleep?” groaned a tired mother. You would think that high need babies would need more sleep; certainly their tired parents do.
Tick… Nothing else to add
7. Unsatisfied: There will be days when you nurse, rock, walk, drive, wear, and try every comforting technique known to man or woman, and nothing will work.
Semi tick… MM is actually the happiest baby I know (unless you do the wrong thing) and everyone comments on how smiley and joyful he is, however, there are days he gets bored of me and the only thing that works is when his dad comes home from work. Then he’s lovely again!
8. Unpredictable: It’s frustrating to realize that what worked yesterday doesn’t work today. “Just as I think I have the game won, he ups the ante,” a baffled mother confided. High need babies are inconsistently appeased. You will need lots of variety in your bag of comforting tricks
Tick… Just as you think you’ve got something cracked he changes his mind!
9. Super sensitive: High need babies are keenly aware of the goings-on in their environment. [they] prefer a secure and known environment, and they are quick to protest when their equilibrium is upset.
Tick… MM is interested in everything around him and each time we’ve gone to a new group or activity he has protested but then next time around has been fine!
10. Can’t put baby down: High need babies crave touch: skin-to-skin contact in your arms, at your breasts, in your bed. They extract whatever physical contact they can from their caregivers. They also crave motion. Holding is not enough; the holder must keep moving. If the holder wants to sit down, it had better be on something that rocks, glides, or swings.
Tick… We have days where he will not go down and would rather chat and play with me so literally nothing gets done!
11. Not a self soother: Another unrealistic expectation new parents often have is that babies will soothe themselves to sleep with the help of a pacifier, a music box, or some baby-calming gadget. High need babies are smarter than that. They want to interact with people, not things. Parents will often report, “He just can’t relax by himself.” High need babies need help to fall asleep. They must learn to trust their parents to help them. This will help them learn to relax on their own, a skill that has value for a lifetime. Crying oneself off to sleep is not a good way to learn to relax. The best way for a baby to learn to relax and fall asleep is to have his behavior shaped for him by a parent. Once a child learns to relax on his own, he’ll have no trouble falling asleep, when he’s tired, on his own
Tick… This explains why none of the 50 million* sleep books I bought work!
12. Separation sensitive: The song “Only You,” could be the theme of most high need babies. These infants do not readily accept substitute care and are notoriously slow to warm up to strangers. As a mother of a clingy baby described it, “Amanda didn’t like new people or new places and seemed to be in a continual phase of separation anxiety.
Semi tick… MM loves people and has always been happy to go to others but recently he has started to look for H and I and looks at us for approval if he goes to someone new but I suspect that’s just normal development rather than being ‘separation sensitive’
Discovering this has helped me a lot to understand MM and as a result has made me less anxious about why he won’t sleep and why he’s so much more vocal than his little friends. It’s helped me realise that it’s not me that’s the problem! I’m pleased he is like this as I’ve always liked a challenge, never wanted a boring child and I never want him to be afraid to speak his mind or tell people how he feels. I want him to be sensitive and caring to others (ie not a bully) and I always want him to feel like his opinion is valued! As exhausted as H and I are we are so blessed to have this amazing little boy with a big personality!