High Needs Babies or Why I Should Be An Apple Picker

March 28, 2012

Continued from My baby is Jack Nicholson and other posts dedicated to crying.

Waylon is howling as I write this. He’s clinging to my thigh, tears streaming down his face, just waiting for me to break. To other attachment parents, this might seem a bit cruel. It does to me too, but I know he’s okay. He’s been fed, changed, and I’ve played with him for at least an hour. I’ll pick him up soon, I just need a moment to vent. A moment to say, “this is hard” and “no really, this kid is clingy” and “my baby is still Jack Nicholson.”

Yesterday I found myself googling “high needs baby” and came across Dr. Sear’s 12 Features Of A High Needs Baby. Have you met Bill? When people ask who Waylon’s primary physician is, I’m tempted to say Dr. Sears as we are always consulting him over everything from rashes to discipline. He is like the President of Parenting. You may have met his nemesis, Michael Pearl. That guy is crazytown.

Basically the article confirmed what I suspected, Waylon is a high needs baby and we just need to accept that.


Dr. Sears and his wife, Martha, began to specialize in fussy babies when their fourth baby, Hayden, was born. While their first 3 children had been generally easy babies, Hayden was only happy when being held or fed. It was then that they realized that some babies are just truly high need.

Some Characteristics of High Needs Babies

Intense. (Read: I am going deaf)

Draining (Read: We went to bed at 1am last night)

Feeds frequently (Read: I am a human pacifier)

Awakens frequently (Read: I am an open buffet all night long)

Super-sensitive (Read: Drama king)

Can’t put baby down (Read: My back is killing me)

Not a self-soother (Read: Co sleeping for life)

Difficulty entertaining themselves. (Read: I’m getting really good at playing “tractor”)

Loves to be around people, noise and activity. Friends and family may not believe your stories of crying and fussing because these babies appear so easy-going and content when in public. (Read: You are making me a liar)

So what’s a mom to do? I bet if I were an apple picker and not a writer, I’d have a much happier baby on my hands. Strapped on my back all day in the outdoors with other apple pickers, fussy pants would be in heaven.

Fortunately that’s not in my cards, so I’ll need to find a different route.

It seems there are many schools of thought on how to deal with high needs babies, the divide happening somewhere between attachment parenting and the school of hard-knocks. For me, half the battle is adjusting my thinking and accepting the kid for who he is. Comparing him to text book babies is futile.

Have you dealt with a high needs baby? Tell me your secrets.


Sources: The Fussy Baby Site & Dr. Sears

44 thoughts on “High Needs Babies or Why I Should Be An Apple Picker

  1. VIv

    What a sweet picture.

    I cared for a baby for 3 years who was “high needs.” His parents would always say “not to be confused with special needs” …although he was special all the same, in a good way. He was a sweetheart, just was a frustrated baby. Once he learned to walk–he changed into a different little person.

  2. JSH

    I laughed when I read that Michael was the nemesis of Dr. Sears. Now that’s a new one (but so true). I think you’re doing great. Just by accepting that he’s a different kind of baby and not expecting him to be something that he’s not is so much further than a lot of parents I see as a teacher. Setting limits (like you were earlier when you just needed a minute) while still trying to meet him where he’s at confirms that you care about it. Establishing trust and a close bond with your babies will pay off later in life. Believe me, I see it every day in school!

    1. Kate {motleymama} Post author

      I was just looking at this on Amazon today, wondering if I should buy it or if all that information is already on his site. He’s pretty great. Thanks for the encouragement, Suz.

      1. Bec

        Dr. Sears is the man. I should forward you the emails that I sent suz. We were just talking about him. You are a great mom, Kate. Waylon wants to be with you every chance he gets!

  3. Esther

    I think Nati fit all of those descriptions to a T. Now, at 2.5 years, he is much, much easier. Also, Lily (baby #2) was not nearly as high needs. There is light at the end of the tunnel. :-)

  4. Jennifer Jo

    “For me, half the battle is adjusting my thinking and accepting the kid for who he is.” I think it’s more like 90 percent of the battle. Even after four kids, I still struggle to get this concept. (But I’m getting better.)

  5. kelsey m.

    I’m also a teacher (and I love your blog!!) and wanted to say that I see a huge difference between kids who have a “rules with relationship” parent bond and a “rules without relationship” parent bond. Sleeping with your baby (as long as YOU are getting sleep too) is doing nothing more than establishing more of a relationship. Some babies need to cry it out, other babies need to sleep with their parents because they feel safer that way..I don’t understand why people argue about this. Who cares where someone else’s baby sleeps?! I promise that Waylon will not be sleeping with you when he’s 16.

    I see kids who’s parents follow the Michael Pearl type of parenting and my heart breaks. They are great kids, don’t get me wrong, well behaved–but they are also kids who fear punishment to the point of being manipulative and liars. Anything to avoid the parent’s “wrath.” Positive reinforcement in the classroom is like a breath of fresh air for these kids. They flourish!

    Sorry for the rant!

  6. Leah

    Oh Waylon. He’ll be alright (and you will too). I had a high needs baby and everyone told me that I should just let him cry all the time and stop catering to him and stop playing with him and stop holding him and don’t sleep with him. So I did. It didn’t help anything.

  7. Heather

    Kate! Trust me! somewhere is the middle is the way to be! I have to admit, I really liked somethings Micheal Pearl wrote AND (hate me here) I also really liked that ever controversial Babywise book. AND I also loved some of the things Dr. Sears wrote! Figure out what YOU are comfortable with and be ok with it! Kids need lots of love and holding and snuggling. and the mom’s need times to say “you are fine. you are fine! you are not dying! I’ll be in to check on you in 15 minutes! and you are FINE” One thing I wish I had been more strict with was not coming in the bathroom. sure it seems innocent when they are little but the next thing you know, there’s 4 kids in there talking to you and you are trying to take care of your “old lady Mom things” (catch my drift?) the hardest thing about being a parent is trying to figure out what each kid needs and adjusting yourself to it! enjoy!

    1. Zoe

      The bathroom. I’m starting to lock the door because they just WON’T stay out.

      I’m with Heather. There’s a lot that you can take from both sides of the spectrum. I think it’s probably most “dangerous” to be an extreme.

      1. Kate {motleymama} Post author

        I totally already shut him out of the bathroom, probably because it’s some very justified me time. I take a magazine.

        And I agree, “extremes are for drama queens” as my English teacher used to say!

  8. Megan

    Hi there! Sullivan is going to be 18 months in April and he fits your description to a T. He is totally high needs. I guess at least now he eats more food(but still loves the boob). And he starts each night in his crib only to end up in our bed two to three hours later. Believe me this is progress. I tried the cry it out method once but it didn’t work for him because he can cry for hours.

  9. margo

    I used to think my daughter was high needs, but now in retrospect (she’s 6), I think I was a high-needs mother.
    I’m getting better.
    I have very good boundaries. I am loving and firm. It’s working very well for me and my family. One of my boundaries is no kids sleeping in the parents’ bed because we tried that and I nearly lost my mind with lack of sleep.

  10. Nessa@CasaBraaflat

    If I had secrets to charming the “high needs” baby, I’d be rich. Because I’d be spilling them for cash.
    Tate (kid #1) was a high needs baby. Described to a T above. He knew all his colors, letters (could recognize them by sight), could count well into the teens and he wasn’t even 2 yet. (Just wait, I bet Waylon will be doing this too) He liked doing flashcards and I was still telling people his age in months! He is now 4 1/2 and yesterday he screamed for 30 minutes for me to come downstairs. I kid you not. Sometimes its all about who can hold on the longest. It’s exhausting. But he doesn’t do this regularly like he used to. It gets better as they get older. And when you can drop them off at preschool for a couple of hours!
    ps. I got pregnant with Jack (kid #2) when Tate was just 8 months old. I’m convinced if it hadn’t happen by chance then, we never would have had another as Tate was such a rotten baby. (But such a sweet little boy!)

    1. Kate {motleymama} Post author

      Rotten babies unite!

      Sometimes when Waylon is screaming, I think–if you are not the next Albert Einstein, I don’t know what we’re doing here.

      Thanks for the encouragement.

  11. kim

    Oh, Kate. I can relate. I would join these baby playgroups and watch all the normal babies do normal baby things, and mine would be screaming and miserable. Which, of course, stressed me out because all new mamas compare their babies to others. I have to say, my high needs babies are now high needs children. A few years ago, the term was “spirited”. Is that one still in rotation? Anyhoo, I’ll give you the blog version of the pep talk that I STILL give myself almost daily {someday I’ll start to listen}:
    I’m not sure that the children become easier as they get older, but I will say that as a mom, I’ve developed more acceptance around the idea that my children are who they are.

    Ok, I feel like I just went to therapy.

    1. Kate {motleymama} Post author

      Thank you for linking to that post; well written and honest–really, thank you. I like what you said about how you can’t choose your children and even though I’m worried about Waylon’s toddler years–if you can do it, I can too–right? I hope so.

      Thanks for being my therapy too.

  12. Candis Jones

    Hey Kate –
    Westley has hit a new developmental growth spurt and so we are having to do some sleep training again. It’s so hard so I usually end up reading the book we use until he falls asleep. Anyway I know I have mentioned it to you before but I thought I would tell you about it again because there are entire sections about high needs babies and after reading them I thought of you and this post and couldn’t stop thinking about ya, so here I am commenting. It’s “Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child”. It talks about the post-colic baby, difficult temperament, etc. I think Elizabeth read a bit of it when her and Everett came to visit so she might have some insight too.

    Also you can just tell me to shove it and mind my own biz.

    Love to you and your handsome little dude. :)

    1. Kate {motleymama} Post author

      I have it! Great book. I know we need to sleep train soon. I know it so much that I avoid conversations about sleep training because I know it’s my fault that I’m still nursing him to sleep everything night (and all night long).

      You should never mind your own business when it comes to helpful mama talk.


  13. Natalie

    Hello! I love this blog!
    My friend over at ‘Tales of me and the husband’ recommended me to this post! I have a little boy who was born last June and is high needs as well! I wrote about it here: http://youngnightthought.wordpress.com/2012/01/27/the-high-need-baby/
    I know how you feel! Co-sleeping and dealing with drama and the intensity of these amazing little people is our 24 hr job right now and sometimes it’s hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel. However, I think our boys will grow up to be quite creative or perhaps famous individuals, no? Your little one is so adorable! Thanks for the honest posting.

  14. pamela

    My second daughter was a high needs baby, a challenging preschooler, an active elementary schooler, a motivated middle schooler, a high achieving high schooler and is currently a well adjusted, but still high needs college sophomore. She is smart, demanding, loving, easily annoyed and will always be my biggest challenge and one of my best accomplishments. I have three other children who were/are easy in comparison.

    It will get better and the odds of your future children being the same are slim to none. :)

  15. Pingback: Top Ten Ways To Distract Your Baby From Being A Holy Terror | Motley Mama

  16. jessica

    Im sitting here phone in one hand holding my breast pumps with the other listening to my three week old premie grunt and hiccup like a crazy person. Thinking this post seems much more relevant than it did the first time I read it before my baby, whom I love with all my heart!

  17. Jess

    I just read this entry and all these comments and cried at my desk with relief (that I’m not alone). It’s hard not to feel like I’m failing as a mother when my 4 month old seems to be feral and pissed off 99% of the time. Sometimes I look at other content babies and wonder what drugs their parents are giving them. I’ll just keep loving him through the exhaustion and try to enjoy the 1% of happy when it comes. This little boy has rocked my world!

  18. sandra

    Good thing you stuck to your job. We decided to leave everything behind and do a natural building project abroad. Our daughter decided to surprise us and come along. The real surprise though was her high need disposition. After four months of non stop crying and a couple of weeks to recover from our PTSD symptoms, we thought “this will be great. She loves being in the baby carrier. We’ll carry her on our back while we work outside.” This worked for about half an hour and as she grew older it became completely impossible (she still loves going for walks in the baby carrier though). I guess as soon as it’s convenient for me she hates doing it. Being close to me isn’t enough. I hope thing have gotten less intense for you two.


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