Is my daughter a ‘high-need’ baby?

My baby cries a lot or at least she did. In the first few weeks after birth, K’s parents repeatedly asked ‘why is your baby crying so much’. To which I would shrug and say ‘because she is a baby’. What did I know? I thought all babies were like this (having not been around many newborns in my life) and I thought perhaps they had just forgotten what it is like to care for such a young’un. Now, I belong to countless mommy groups and have met many little babies, I know not all babies are alike. Some are very vocal while others are calm and peaceful all the time, it seems.

Over time I started to notice a few other differences, too. When I went to a group meeting, I was the only one that had to repeatedly feed my baby for long tranches of time and when Anya wasn’t feeding (or asleep at my breast) I would have to get up and bounce her, walk her or otherwise entertain her or she would get progressively more upset. Meanwhile all the other babes were peacefully sleeping in their car seats on the floor.

Okay, so other babies cry too, of course. They all express all these behaviours, it just seemed Anya expressed them more!

I also found out my baby was eating more regularly and for longer than most of the other ones her same age. She also wakes up plenty-plenty in the night, where other babies are already sleeping if not through the night, at least for longer and longer stretches. My baby cried her way through most car journeys; theirs went straight to sleep. Hmm….

So what does this all mean? I resisted the label ‘fussy’ for my baby. That sounds kind of judgemental to me, like she is a ‘bad’ or misbehaving baby or one with refined tastes who is just a pain. Rubbish! She is too young for that to be the case, surely. I also realised she was not colicky. Okay she seemed to cry frequently, but she didn’t have those long bouts of inconsolable crying typical of colic. Colicky babies I know cry for at least three hours in a row, usually in the evening.

So, what is going on?

Reluctantly, I picked up Dr. Sears’ “Parenting the Fussy Baby and the High-Need Child” book and was introduced to a new label: ‘high-need babies’. I lapped that book up – read it cover to cover in record time. I really resonated with their descriptions. I found great solace in finding that babies are born like this, with different temperaments (I did not make her like this with my approach to parenting – which some were beginning to make me feel was ‘over-responsive’ as if that was even possible). I also loved reading first-hand accounts from other parents of ‘high-need’ children.

Our baby fit the pattern in the following ways:

– Anya was waking up every one to three hours at night
– she cried every time she went in the car
– she was ‘fussy’, upset and/or crying frequently throughout the day
– she doesn’t fall asleep easily when she is tired, as some babies do, she needs help either in the form of rocking or feeding, usually
– she was being fed for at least 45 minutes out of every two hours… for the first two or three months she fed for 45minutes out of each hour a day during the day!
– she wakes up as soon as you move her so that for the first six weeks (until I learned how to breastfeed with us both lying on our sides) she slept on my chest, literally. Since then she still sleeps in our bed – ‘cos moving her just means we are back to square one with helping her fall asleep

… Dr. Sears also re-introduced me to the possibility that food allergies or intolerances could be at the root of her discomfort. The book ‘What to Expect in Baby’s First Year’ had put me off trying any dietary changes as according to them there is no scientific proof that what I eat affects the baby. Unfortunately their statement though factually true is also dismissing the scores of women who swear diet changes helped their babies, while breastfeeding. Let science catch up to us (as usual).

And now, the reason why so much of that description is written in the past tense is that since changing my diet much of Anya’s behaviour has changed. Still, it is hard to say at this point how much is just down to food. She is also older now so may have grown out of certain behaviours. Plus, we are getting much better at helping her to nap consistently and get to bed nice and early every day – that helps a lot. I even think the good sleep patterns have played a huge part in helping improve her experience of car rides.

Because, yes, now I have an almost completely different baby. She is still quite spirited, she won’t just lie there and look at a wall or peacefully fall asleep, but she isn’t fretting or crying half as much as she was in the early days (phew!). She now is often relaxed and sometimes even sleeps in the car. She is sleeping much longer stretches. In the last week (really since the diet changes) she has slept for up to 7 hours in a row (although because she goes to bed at 7.30 and I don’t go to bed until around midnight, I still haven’t had such a long sleep period).

Plus, and here is the other thing about what Dr Sears calls high-need baby and what I now think of as high-energy babies: when they are sad they get very, very testy, but when they are happy they are adorable!! They are ‘high-energy’ because they put their all into everything. If Anya is upset she will surely let you know. But when she is happy she is a joy – and she has been just a giggly, exploring, fun little baby in the last few weeks.

The diet is good (although watch this space as I re-introduce more foods to find out which exactly Anya is reacting to); the flower essences I have been giving Anya help, getting to grips with a healthy sleep pattern is great and all in all (knock on wood) Anya is having more fun and less discomfort – and with that, so are we. Hoorah!

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