There are some common questions you may have noticed as a new parent, from close friends and family, to complete strangers on the street. The number one question: “Is she a good baby?” It is odd no one ever asks “is she a bad baby?” even though the first question would imply that the second could be valid. But is there really such thing as a bad baby? People often soften the opposite of good by describing a baby as ‘difficult’ or ‘hard work.’ However, if the opposite of ‘good’ is ‘bad’, then that would still imply that if your baby isn’t good then there is some sort of problem either with your baby or your parenting.
Among other quite personal questions hurled at new parents are ones such as “how many hours is he sleeping for you?” This almost implies that the baby is there to serve the parent’s needs for sleep. “It’s just an expression,” they may protest, and yes, that is true, but behind every expression is an element of truth. Then there are the statements made about babies; the judgments made in passing; like: “He obviously only wants his mummy” – said in a way that implies that is a bad thing.
There is also the unsolicited advice intended to sound wise, like: “Oh, be careful or you’re going to have a needy baby on your hands” Be careful of what? Meeting a baby’s needs? There is this assumption that parents make their babies clingy by giving in to them. This simply is not true. Babies have basic needs, not just for food and warmth, but for comfort as well. Just because a baby has everything we feel they need, it does not mean that if they are crying it’s because they have nothing better to do. Studies have shown that the more a parent listens to their baby in the first few months and years, the more independent the child grows up to be. This is because the child has learned through experience that they can trust their parents to meet their needs, therefore they have the security and confidence to step out and explore the world around them.
This is basic attachment theory that can be applied to all babies. Every baby has intense needs, especially in the beginning. Yet parents may feel as though there is something particularly intense about the needs of their baby. It can be discouraging to see other babies being passed around at parties, or sleeping for long stretches of time while your baby insists on being held only be the mother and rarely sleeps for more than a few hours. Dr Sears, a famous family doctor who promotes attachment parenting, describes these babies as ‘high needs’ – not bad, difficult, or hard work.
High needs babies are intense from the very start – in fact, it’s possible the mother sensed it in her pregnancy if the baby was constantly kicking for more space. They can also be described as hyperactive – not in the judgmental labelling kind of way, but because of their alert and ready to go state of being. Their muscles are often stiff and some high needs babies actually don’t even like to be held.
High needs babies can be draining. They tend to feed frequently as they often breastfeed for comfort. This is seen as a bad habit by some modern parenting experts. However, feeding for comfort is a perfect way for your baby to relax and find peace internally. Breastfeeding also releases prolactin, which is a hormone that can help the mother to feel good and relaxed as well. It is usually those parents who feel they have to have their baby on a schedule who will struggle with the frequent feeding, but if they can throw the schedule away, they may find that frequent feeding actually makes for a more mellow mother and baby.
High needs babies are often called ‘demanding’. Again, this is painting a picture of a baby who is fully aware of the impact her needs are having on those caring for her. Parents can take comfort that although being demanding may be driving them round the bend, it is that very trait that will help their children to succeed and excel. The ability to know one’s needs and the ability to be able to make them known is a valuable tool for success in life, which is why it is so important to not try and suppress the demands of a growing child.
Parents may notice that their baby does not like to be put down. This is where having a sling can be a great tool. It will allow the parents to get on with what they need to do while also holding the baby. High needs babies also wake frequently. This is often because they are very sensitive to what is going on around them and will often startle themselves awake. They often sleep much less than the baby books say they will and it helps if parents realise this is normal.
It’s important to understand that all babies will be high needs in one area or another and that there will be babies who seem to be high needs in most areas. The key is for parents to accept their baby’s personality the way it is and reject common notions implying that their parenting is to blame. There are several ways in which parents can get through the intense years of parenting a high needs baby. “This too shall pass” is a great mantra.
Once a parent has relaxed and started to accept the way their baby is, instead of wearing themselves out trying to change them or fix them, they can often start to really appreciate their baby’s amazing personality, which will help them enjoy their parenting. Every parent is tired and with a high needs baby, maybe you feel like you’re a little more tired than everyone else. But there is nothing wrong with you or your baby, so try and ignore some of the questions, comments, and judgments.