Saturday October 1st 2022

A day in the life of a high-need baby

TODAY is one of those days. If you’re the parent of a high-need baby (and they do exist – we’re not just ‘bad parents’), you’ll know exactly what type of day this has been.

If you have a baby who has never had you frantically Googling for the characteristics of high-need kids, simply imagine a trying day with a crying child – one when he or she was sick, or pushing through molars, or was clearly unhappy no matter how hard you tried to meet his or her needs.

Imagine also that nearly every day was like this. That’s how it is for moms and dads trying to actually enjoy their little one – and failing miserably.

When Conor was born, his yell was very loud. I practised Kangaroo Mother Care with him (skin-to-skin contact) from the first few moments after birth. This was supposed to soothe and calm him. The literature said that he’d snuggle in and sleep, or instinctively find the breast and latch on without any help. But Conor isn’t that type of baby – he’s loud, intense and complex. And he exhausts me.

He screamed and yelled from theatre (I had a Caesarean section : a big no-no, I would think, for super-sensitive high-need babies) to the recovery room, where everybody looked at him and the midwife tried to shush him, looking perplexed. He was supposed to be feeling warm, safe and secure; instead, he was bellowing with such angry gusto that the elderly patient next to me rolled her eyes and tutted.

It’s the rolling eyes and tutting that make me afraid to take him out – even at nearly nine months old. I never know how he’s going to react – and his voice is (haven’t I said this before?) LOUD. INTENSE. ANGRY. So people assume that he must be in pain, hungry, tired, teething, suffering from reflux, suffering from SOMETHING. He HAS to be, right? He’s clearly not happy. And his mom needs to do something about it.

Well, she’s tried. Being both esoteric and practical, I’ve tried everything from teething necklaces to tissue salts, allopathic medicines with dodgy-sounding preservatives, wraps, warm baths, shushing, not-shushing, delaying solids, structuring nap-times and doing away with routine. Nothing works. Conor is who is he and I don’t know how the hell to deal with it.

My first baby, now six, was average. She slept and ate well, had no health problems (neither does Conor, but he always SEEMS to) and was going to restaurants with us from a few months. She’d sit in her pram and look at people; Conor will sit in his pram for a few minutes before all the hounds of hell break loose and he Must Be Picked Up.

So yes, my eldest was a ‘breeze’. If only I’d realised this, I’d have appreciated her more. I tell her that now, when she and I try to entertain, coo at, calm and diagnose her red-faced, pixie-nosed brother.

I am breastfeeding and co-sleeping. These two things have saved my sanity and I know they’ve saved his too. But the breastfeeding brings up a whole bunch of issues too : perhaps he’s hungry? That’s why he’s crying today, maybe? At one stage, from around seven months, when I introduced some goat’s milk, he’d happily drink it and I could get out and about on my own (very, very important for any mom – but essential for one who has a high-need baby on her hands).

But a few days ago, he eschewed the goat’s milk and won’t drink anything but breastmilk. Smart baby? Perhaps – but it makes life difficult. Because now I’m back to the : oh lawd, he must be hungry/it’s my milk/my supply is dodgy/help/he’s such a dinky thing, why isn’t he picking up a lot more weight nonsense.

I’m a parenting writer. I know the drill and I eat the theory for breakfast. If someone I knew had a baby like this, I’d tell her exactly what to do : wait. I’d explain that she had a high-need child and that she was doing a great job. I’d also tell her to stop being embarrassed and to get out more. And to lose the guilt.

But because he’s mine – and I tend not to take my own advice – I’m really having rather a hard time of it.

I’ve been asked to write about my experiences, but I find it difficult, as so many people have such different experiences. Their babies coo and lie still, unless they’re sick or, on the odd occasion, just plain irritated with the world.

But I’ve realised that what I write can help both sides of the fence : those of us with high-need children (so’s we don’t feel alone anymore) and those with ‘ordinary’ babies (so’s we feel relieved that ours isn’t like that and thus, we appreciate them more).

I know that my son is super-bright, incredibly curious, very physically adept and just trying to find his place in the world. I also know that he is going to transform from this bundle of bluster into a very energetic and intelligent toddler and pre-schooler and that, one day, when he’s a man, he will be sweet to his mother.

But for today, it’s been one of those days. And now that he’s cried himself to sleep (and he wasn’t even tired) while being rocked in the pram, I have a few minutes of peace. And blog time.


15 Comments for “A day in the life of a high-need baby”

  • Jessi says:

    I have a 2 year oold that is the same way

  • Jessi says:

    my first was an easy child as well

  • Brooke says:

    “I also know that he is going to transform from this bundle of bluster into a very energetic and intelligent toddler and pre-schooler and that, one day, when he’s a man, he will be sweet to his mother.”

    Beautiful. I want to remember this.

  • Beth says:

    Brooke and Jessi, thanks so much for your comments. Writing is therapeutic and blow me down if he wasn’t a happier camper today. Go figure!

  • Shona Marais says:

    Aah Beth, you know this was written for me:) I feel your pain my friend and i just think about what my mother inlaw keeps telling me ” don’t worry, one day he will be in matric”, lol. I always think of you when Ryan is being super hard. Love and hugs

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  • Traci says:

    Try a vibrator. If you suspect gas pain, place it on the low intestinal area. Keep it in one spot for a while, then move to another, keep it there a while. Don’t move it around quickly. Bones carry vibration through the body. Place it on the hip bone to vibrate intestines. Even the knee with leg bent. Then turn him on his belly and do his sacrum area, above the tailbone. Again, keep it in one spot a while before moving on. Remember the vibration is much more intense for their little bodies than ours. Really consider the intensity of vibration and decide how thick you think the blankets or clothing should be between the vibrator and baby. And depending on the intensity, you may not want to exceed 20 minutes in a session. If the vibration is very soft, longer should be fine. Never go on the chest and be careful of the belly area, which can be sensitive. This stops my baby from howling every time. He starts talking and sometimes talks through the whole session!

  • Beth says:

    Shona, you and I are each other’s rocks! xxx

  • Beth says:

    Thank-you Traci : fascinating and insightful advice!

  • Manjari says:

    I just wandered in here off the web, but I had to comment. My little girl is 3 now, but I still vividly remember the horror of her first year. Parents with “normal” children can never truly understand it.

    Take heart: When other parents go through shock and difficulty when their easygoing babies turn into toddlers with a will, you can just smirk, because your own little bundle of joy will likely be easier as a toddler than he is as a baby (at least, mine is!). Plus your kid is probably way smarter than theirs are. 😉

    • Beth says:

      Thank-you Manjari! It’s always good to know that there is light at the end of the tunnel :). May your wee girl continue to bring you much joy.

  • B says:

    He will be wonderful,he will move mountains. For now teach him all you can babies like that want to learn and learn at an incredibly fast rate but cant express what they want which is strange in view of all the noise they make.
    Is he only on breast milk? If he eats solids try keeping him away from wheat products ,he may be celiac.

  • Beth says:

    Dear B, thank-you for commenting. It’s hard to believe that my blustering baby boy is now almost 17 months old. He is STILL loud and still sounds as though the hounds of hell have broken loose when he’s angry, or cold, or tired…but his personality has become exactly what I predicted : bright, cheerful, funny and a barrel of laughs. These babies are creatures of extremes precisely because they are forces to be reckoned with. And I love people to read these blogs and to read my comments later, just so’s they know : this too shall pass!

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