Life with a High-Need Baby

When Cody was a newborn, he slept a lot and nursed a lot. That was pretty much all he did, and he spent the majority of his time in somebody’s arms, usually either mine or Cory’s. I didn’t consider him any more “high-need” than any other newborn baby would be. From about 2 months and on, though, he’s become a textbook high-need baby. Obviously, all babies have a lot of needs and are demanding, but there are some babies who are even more demanding than others. Dr. Sears describes a high-need baby as one who fits many of the following criteria: intense, hyperactive, draining, feeds frequently, demanding, awakens frequently, unsatisfied, unpredictable, super sensitive, can’t put baby down, not a self soother, and separation sensitive. I wouldn’t describe Cody as intense or hyperactive, but he definitely hits the mark with every other characteristic on that list.

Cody is draining, in that he takes every ounce of my energy and time. He is my job right now, and doing anything else that doesn’t include giving him my full or almost full attention is out of the question. I can’t volunteer at church right now because I can’t leave him, and I’d be too busy holding him to be of any help. I canceled my gym membership because, again, I can’t leave him. I don’t write anymore except when he’s napping, like right now. All of my activities either have to be flexible enough to be put down at a moment’s notice, so I can do them while he’s napping, or they have to include him. By the end of the day, I’m usually drained, especially mentally.

He also feeds frequently, about every hour and a half. This is the best timing for him to stay relatively in a good mood; if I wait longer than that, he gets fussy and when I do feed him, I have so much milk built up that he chokes on it and has a hard time nursing. He’s also uniquely demanding- he doesn’t just sit on my lap or play with his toys, he needs near-constant input from us. We have to change how we hold him every few minutes, change scenery, change activities, etc.

Awakens frequently is a mild way to describe his sleeping habits. Lately, for the past few weeks, he wakes up 6 to 10 (or more) times at night, and I can get him to nurse back to sleep about 75% of the time. The other times I have to put him in his swing, which thankfully works nearly every time. Even so, it’s hard to get a good night’s sleep waking up so frequently!

Unsatisfied means that there are times when nothing I do or Cory does will work to calm Cody down. Sometimes it’s all we can do to just rock him while he cries in our arms, until he falls asleep or something miraculously changes. Unpredictable means that what works to keep Cody happy or get him to sleep changes frequently, and that his schedule is not very consistent. Sometimes he enjoys an activity, other times he doesn’t. Sometimes he takes a 30 minute nap in the afternoon, other times it’s 2 hours or occasionally even longer.

Cody is super-sensitive, especially after his naps and when he’s tired. Loud or unexpected noises startle him and make him cry. He is easily distracted while nursing, and may not be able to concentrate if I’m talking to somebody, or even eating a snack with noisy packaging.

Generally, he needs to be held or within arm’s reach at all times, except when he’s sleeping in his swing. He does not like being put down or left alone for more than a few minutes. He’s not a self soother who can be put to sleep in a crib; even in his swing, he often needs me or Cory to sit next to him and shush him or lay a hand on him until he’s asleep. And lastly, he’s separation sensitive, meaning he needs to be with me or near me, or Cory, almost all of the time.

I share this all with my readers not to complain, but simply to share my experiences as the mother of a high-need baby. Some people may not understand what it’s like, or they may think that we’re overly indulgent parents, but the truth is we are just being the best parents we can be to a baby who needs a lot from us. I think it’s fortunate that Cody was born to us, parents who are willing and able to meet his needs. I came into this adventure with the mindset that I would give everything I have to this baby, and so I was prepared for a high-need child. It’s still hard and tiring, but it’s the best job for me in the world. Meeting Cody’s needs fulfills me and gives me motivation and challenges me. I love it, and I wouldn’t ever trade him for an easier baby.

And on that note, when Cody’s happy, he’s the sweetest and most wonderful baby around. He’s curious, interested in his world, interactive, silly, and so much fun. I take every day with him as it comes, savoring the perfect moments and praying and thanking God for him in the hard moments. He is such a gift, and I love him more than words can express.

Plus, as Cory said the other day, “he’s so cute, I just want to rip my face off!”


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