Parenting A High Needs Baby

It could be argued that all babies are “high needs.” They all need to have their needs met and be cared for and especially if this is your first time, learning to be a parent requires a lot of adapting and growing, no matter how laid back your particular child is.

But for some parents, you will be aware of a difference in your own child’s nature. Early signs that they are that little bit more feisty, more challenging. They will not let their unmet needs go unnoticed, they will communicate it to you in the one way they know how. Loudly. Sounding familiar at all?


If you have begun to suspect that your child is indeed a “high needs” baby, here are some clues (Not that you need them!) –

  • Your child does not sleep in a car-seat, instead they will scream furiously until they are back in their rightful place, your arms.
  • Stays (unhappily) awake in a sling and will not go off to sleep despite jiggling, bouncing, rocking or singing.
  • May have regular or long nursing strikes which can be difficult and emotional for both of you.
  • Will not be placed in a rocker, bouncer or anywhere other than a pair of human arms, preferably mums.
  • You have learned to shower and dress in record time but its still not quick enough…!
  • You learned to eat dinner one handed long ago and wouldn’t even dream it possible to eat with two hands again
  • You are used to watching from the corner of the room at baby groups and family gatherings, as you spend your time trying to sooth your crying baby while all the other babies gurgle on the floor, their mothers chatting and drinking tea.
  • You have heard such advice as, “You shouldn’t hold her all the time, she will never become independent” and “You have done all you can, just leave her to cry and she will soon give up.”

The “high needs” child is vulnerable to the effects of conventional parenting. Parents at the end of their tether may feel the need to sleep train or enforce separation so he can learn to be independent. Challenging as it may be, the fact is that these children need gentle parenting just as much, if not more than others!

They need your reassurance, your love, your time. If you meet his needs now, he will become more vibrant and incredible as he grows. To “train” him would be to break his spirit. And as many parents of high needs children will tell you, they wont give in anyway. They know what they need and they are going to tell you all about it until they get it.

Parenting a high needs child can be isolating and very draining. You may feel it is too much of a challenge to get out and meet people or socialise, especially if you are worried about what people will think of you. I remember when my son was about 4 months old, he wanted to be constantly nursing, but reflux sometimes made him too uncomfortable to latch on. This took away my number one tool and left me in many situations where he would not stop screaming, and I could do nothing to sooth him. It would often happen in the worst places too. Once walking along the seafront with him snuggled in the sling, a good 45 minutes from home, he woke and began screaming immediately. I tried to feed him, to burp him and everything I could to calm him down, but it was no good. I had to walk all the way home, unable to sooth him and wishing we had never bothered coming out.

But tough as those times were, I’m glad we made the effort. In doing so we found a support network who are accepting and non judgmental of our choices. Breaking out of isolation enabled me to get adult conversation, share experiences with a supportive group of mothers who provide a listening ear, as well as a break. Remember, it takes a village to raise a child.

Tips for parenting a high needs child –

  • Slow down the pace. Rushing from one place to the next is a sure fire way to cause stress. Get yourself on “Fiji time!” Linger in the woods giving your little one time to finish exploring, rather than rushing through.
  • Respect your child’s independence. As soon as they are able, instead of picking them up and carrying them away from their activity, why not stand up yourself and offer your hand. This act of respect for them will go a long way. Instead of a helpless party, they are an equal and the choice is theirs to take your hand and come with you.
  • Remember their need for sleep and rest, and ensure they are not hungry. A tired and hungry child = a cross and irritable child.
  • Let them lead you in their needs. Try not to worry about what you should be doing, the only person you need to listen to regarding their needs, is your baby. Feed them when they tell you they are hungry, let them sleep when they need to. Trying to doctor their sleep habits is stressful and pointless. Sleep as much as you can and be safe in the knowledge that their body clock will regulate to the families sleep habits in good time.
  • Seek medical advice. If your baby is in distress and pain, find out what is causing it. I cant stress enough that if there is something causing symptoms in your baby, DO YOUR OWN REASEARCH. Doctors are limited in the time they can give you and you know your baby best. By all means, get them checked out, but if you want to find a solution, independent research is your best bet. If colic is the issue this article may lead you in the right direction.
  • Relinquish control. Some of the happiest and “best behaved” children in the world have never been forced to do anything in their lives. Perhaps you would like your child to sit in their highchair for meals, but if they don’t want to, why force them? It will only cause them to resent the highchair and start a battle over mealtimes. Instead, sit down, eat your meal and be open and welcoming if they choose to join you. Forcing them to sit down may appear to solve a problem right now, but in the long term it will create far more stress where there need not be any.
  • Wear your baby. Keeping them close to you will help eliminate stress on their part. It will provide them with interesting things to watch and they will feel involved and included, as nature intended. The more you wear them, the calmer they will be.

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What did you find the toughest part of parenting a high needs child? Have you found more of a rhythm as you got to know their signals and began to recognise their needs more quickly?

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5 thoughts on “Parenting A High Needs Baby”

  1. Thank you for the fantastic insight. I only wish I had known all this when I started parenting my “spirited” baby, would have made my life a lot easier that first year. Now that he is, I’ve learned how to manage him better and he is smart as all get out.

    I pray that more people get to know about HN babies so parents like me don’t feel so isolated all the time.

  2. my 7 month baby wakes up about 12 times a night, usually every 40 minutes or every hour. it’s exhausting. during the day, he is ALWAYS on my lap. I manage to have him sitting down playing with his toys for about 5 minutes. I will not train him for anything, just give him my love and whatever he needs, however I must confess that it’s extremely exhausting, but all I can do is get up for another day. I wish he gets better soon.

  3. Omg, thank you so much for this post! I’m a first time mother and my baby is definitely high needs and is driving me nuts. I had a few friends who had children around the same time as me and their babies seems so easy compared to mine. It is really discouraging, but your posts makes me feel like I’m not alone. Thank you!

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