High-needs babies: How-to survive if your baby has a high-needs personality

Oct 14, 2010 at 5:50 a.m. ET

Demanding? Fussy? Impossible to put down? Mothering a high-needs baby can be both physically and mentally exhausting, but with a few simple strategies you can learn how to cope with your child's spirited personality.

What does high-needs mean?

The term high-needs was coined by Dr. William Sears, a pediatrician and father of eight, who recognised that high-needs children are not bad or spoiled -- they merely have a sensitive temperament and require a unique style of parenting.

While other babies seem happy to doze in their car-seats or watch the world revolve around them, babies with a high-needs personality refuse to leave their mothers arms and require almost constant attention.

Survival Tips

1. Avoid over-stimulation

There is a lot of encouragement in our society to provide babies with almost continual stimulation, but it is very easy for high-needs babies to become overwhelmed. Loud noises, active games, and even too much physical contact can all cause a high-needs child to go into meltdown.

If you are having trouble calming your baby, try taking him into a peaceful, dimly lit room. Both of you will benefit from taking time away from the bustle of everyday life.

2. Ask for help

Though it may be hard to leave a high-needs baby with anyone else, even super-mums need time to recharge their batteries every now and again. Let dad have a turn rocking the baby while you take a walk or have a leisurely bath, or ask a grandparent to step in while you go shopping alone.

Having short, regular breaks from your baby will help you to avoid becoming frustrated and resentful. If you feel that you have no one to turn to, try contacting the voluntary organization, Home Start who offer practical and emotional support to families with young children.

3. Get out

Staring at the same four walls every day can leave you feeling isolated. Visiting a local park or joining a mother and baby group can make a huge difference to your state of mind.

Try a few different groups in order to find one that suits your parenting philosophy and avoid situations where you are made to feel uncomfortable. You need support and understanding, not criticism.

4. Try a sling

Babywearing is a great way to satisfy your baby's need to be held while allowing you to carry on with everyday tasks. Slings can also be used by other family members to comfort your baby while you are away.

5. Don't compare

So your best friend's newborn is already sleeping through the night and your sister is constantly harping on about how independent your niece was when she was a baby. Every child is different and each one will come with their own set of challenges. That quiet, contented baby might well turn into the pre-school biter!

Comparing your baby to others will only leave you feeling inadequate and anxious, so just enjoy all those little things that make your child special.

6. Look on the bright side

Caring for a high-needs baby is an intense experience, but there are positives. All of those personality traits which seem so tiring now will one day become your child's most valuable assets. When parented in a sensitive and responsive way, high-needs babies often grow up to become confident, resourceful, and high-achieving adults.

More ways to help calm a fussy baby:

Ten ways to soothe your newborn
Cry babies: Coping with a fussy baby