High Needs VS. Difficult Babies 7/8/13

Yes, I am still behind on my posts…but here’s my latest revelations….

Well, we tried and failed miserably at the whole “sleep training” that I wrote about in my last post. We came to realize at the end of it all that Alex is just not a baby that conventional methods will work on. She will not be controlled.

Tim and I couldn’t follow through with it. I felt like we were failures until I talked to my sister in law and she agreed that you just can’t let reflux babies cry it out. We let her cry for less than 5 minutes and she vomited and after that all bets were off. I couldn’t do it. Tim couldn’t do it. It took us a good 15 minutes just to get her to calm down after that and I felt like the most horrible person in the world. So instead of us trying to be controlling of her and the situation and feeling guilty for not being “tough enough” for it, we started adjusting our methods and did what our hearts told us.

During this time, I came upon an interesting article from Ask Dr. Sears.com on “High Needs Babies”. It changed my whole perspective…on everything. Their theory (A pediatrician and a nurse) is that there are certain babies that are very unique in that they really do NEED MORE than most babies to thrive. This also goes along with something my friend Carol told me she was learning in some of her psychology classes: babies that demand more attention and receive it end up much more well-adjusted later in life than those that didn’t receive it. In reading the descriptions of high needs babies, our wonderful little girl has almost all of the traits/qualities. When I read it, I was relieved. All this time, Tim and I had been trying to figure out what we were doing wrong and felt like we were failing because she just didn’t behave like most of the other babies we had been around or our friends/family had. Now I’ve come to accept that she really is just unique, or different, and that’s not such a bad thing. There will be parts of parenting her that will be more challenging than it is for most parents, but there will also be plenty of rewarding parts too.

Its so hard to begin to describe to someone who hasn’t experienced it what exactly makes these babies so much more challenging at times. I believe that ALL babies go through challenging times or have certain behaviors that are difficult to deal with. Eventually you can to pick out other parents that have high needs babies; sometimes just from one conversation. Those that don’t know may think that we exaggerate…or we’re just not handling the situation very well. We thought that too. For so long I felt so guilty because I felt like I was just complaining all the time. I knew that I loved her more than life itself, no matter how hard it was. I just felt like I couldn’t get control or get it together. I was happy. I knew I didn’t have PPD (Post-Partum Depression) because I wasn’t unhappy, didn’t find myself crying or letting myself go. I was actually keeping it all together quite well, I just felt like I was failing her.

I wanted to write about this because someone else out there is feeling the same way. They are feeling like a failure and I want them to know they are not. If you’re reading what I wrote above and already feeling relieved that’s probably enough to know that you probably do have a high needs baby. Still, I’ve included a list directly from their website of the qualities.

“12 Qualities of High Needs Babies:” Source: http://www.askdrsears.com/

1.) Intense- The cry of a high need baby is not a mere request, it’s an urgent demand. These babies put more energy into everything they do. They cry loudly, feed voraciously, laugh with gusto, and protest more forcefully if their needs are not met to their satisfaction. Because they feel so deeply, they react more powerfully if their feelings are disturbed. “If I don’t feed him as soon as he fusses, he falls apart” is a common statement from the mother of such a baby.
Intense babies become the intense toddlers, characterized by one word — “driven.” They seem in high gear all the time. Their drive to explore and experiment with everything in reach leaves no household item safe. As older children and adults this can be a great characteristic!

2.) Hyperactive- This feature of high need babies, and its cousin hypertonic, are directly related to the quality of intensity. Hypertonic refers to muscles that are frequently tensed and ready to go, tight and waiting to explode into action. The muscles and mind of high need children are seldom relaxed or still. These motor traits are part of the baby’s personality. They may be hard to live with at times, but this restlessness is not necessarily a negative trait. Some highly creative, world-changing people were at one time or another labeled hyperactive as a child.

3.) Draining- High need babies extract every bit of energy from tired parents — and then want more. The seemingly constant holding, nursing, and comforting leave little energy left over for your needs. But just when you feel you can’t cope with another day of giving, you get a second wind, and suddenly you can relax and enjoy your baby’s unique personality blooming. It’s as if baby senses mother’s breaking point and backs off a bit. There probably won’t be any days off, but some days will be less difficult than others.

4.) Feeds Frequently- feeding is not only a source of nutrition, it’s an easy tool for comforting. Studies show that babies who are fed frequently, as needed, cry less than infants who are fed on a more rigid parent-controlled schedule. So how often should you breastfeed your high need baby? As frequently as baby needs, yet not to the extent of wearing out the feeder. There are other ways to comfort high need babies, and it’s important to learn some of these alternatives. Not only do high need babies breastfeed more frequently, the need for breastfeeding lasts longer. These babies are notoriously slow to wean.

5.) Demanding- High need babies don’t just merely request feeding and holding, they demand it — loudly. This feature more than any of the others pushes parents’ buttons, causing them to feel manipulated and controlled. Mothers of high need babies often say, “I just can’t get to him fast enough.” These babies convey a sense of urgency in their signals; they do not like waiting, and they do not readily accept alternatives. Woe to the parent who offers baby the rattle when he is expecting a breast. He will let you know quickly and loudly that you’ve misread his cues. With parents who both respond to and wisely channel her demands, the high need child develops into a person with determination, one who will fight for her rights. The child becomes a leader instead of a follower, one who does not just follow the path of least resistance and do what everyone else is doing

6.) Awakens Frequently- “Why do high need babies need more of everything but sleep?” groaned a tired mother. You would think that high need babies would need more sleep; certainly their tired parents do. I have gradually come to realize that she just doesn’t need to sleep, and I can’t force her to do so. The best thing I can do is to continue to provide a nurturing environment conducive to sleep and realize that she will eventually sleep more and so will I.

7.) Unsatisfied- Not being able to satisfy a baby’s needs is very frustrating for parents of high need babies. It seems like a direct attack on your abilities. After all, isn’t a contented baby the hallmark of effective mothering? Wrong! There will be days when you nurse, rock, walk, drive, wear, and try every comforting technique known to man or woman, and nothing will work. Don’t take this as a sign of failure. You do the best you can, and the rest is up to the baby. You have not failed as a mother even if your baby is miserable much of the time. This is simply part of his personality. Meanwhile, keep experimenting with one comforting tool after another, and you will eventually discover one that works – – at least for that day.

8.) Unpredictable- It’s frustrating to realize that what worked yesterday doesn’t work today. “Just as I think I have the game won, he ups the ante,” a baffled mother confided. High need babies are inconsistently appeased. You will need lots of variety in your bag of comforting tricks. Some of these things worked some of the time, nothing worked all the time. This is very frustrating and it makes you constantly wonder what you are doing wrong. Along with their unpredictability, these children show extremes of mood swings. When happy, they are a joy to be around; they are master charmers and people pleasers. When angry, they let everyone around them feel the heat. The child’s unpredictability makes your day unpredictable. Do you take him shopping and risk a mega tantrum when his first grocery grabs are thwarted, or will this be a day when he is the model shopping cart baby, charming everyone at the checkout counter?

9.) Super Sensitive- High need babies are keenly aware of the goings-on in their environment. “Easily bothered,” “quickly stimulated,” “like walking on eggshells” is how parents describe their sensitive babies. High need babies prefer a secure and known environment, and they are quick to protest when their equilibrium is upset. This acute sensitivity to their environment can become a rewarding asset as a high need child grows. They become kids who care. They are bothered by another child’s hurts. They develop empathy, a quality that is lacking in many of today’s teens and adults. Because these children are so sensitive, they develop great discernment and are able to consider the effects of their behavior on the feelings of others.

10.) Can’t Put Baby Down- High need babies crave touch: skin-to-skin contact in your arms, at your breasts, in your bed. They extract whatever physical contact they can from their caregivers. They also crave motion. Holding is not enough; the holder must keep moving. If the holder wants to sit down, it had better be on something that rocks, glides, or swings. Most high need babies choose to upgrade their accommodations from the crib or playpen to the baby sling. They like to be worn many hours a day because they like the physical contact and they like to be up where the action is. Smart babies.

11.) Not a Self Soother- Another unrealistic expectation new parents often have is that babies will soothe themselves to sleep with the help of a pacifier, a music box, or some baby-calming gadget. High need babies are smarter than that. They want to interact with people, not things. High need babies need help to fall asleep. They must learn to trust their parents to help them. This will help them learn to relax on their own, a skill that has value for a lifetime. Crying oneself off to sleep is not a good way to learn to relax. The best way for a baby to learn to relax and fall asleep is to have his behavior shaped for him by a parent. Once a child learns to relax on his own, he’ll have no trouble falling asleep, when he’s tired, on his own. The quality of wanting people instead of things as pacifiers, while initially exhausting, will eventually work to the child’s advantage. The child will have a better grasp on interpersonal relationships, especially being comfortable with the quality of intimacy.
12.) Separation Sensitive- The song “Only You,” could be the theme of most high need babies. These infants do not readily accept substitute care and are notoriously slow to warm up to strangers. Your baby’s quality of being very selective about who cares for her shows that she has great discernment. High need babies know which situations and which persons they can trust to meet their needs, and they protest if these expectations are not met. Loud separation protests also reveal that these babies have a capacity for forming deep attachments — if they didn’t care deeply, they wouldn’t fuss so loudly when separated.”

Those are the descriptions I took directly from the website. Like I said, probably all babies will have some of these characteristics or even all of them some of the time. Alexandra has had all of these characteristics except for the last one about separation. She has always been really good with people. So how do you tell then if you truly have a high needs baby? For me it’s the consistency of it.

I think a lot of how you can tell is by gaging the parents. When you love your baby more than you ever could imagine yet you just feel like no matter what you’re doing, it’s the wrong thing. On the other hand when you do get it right and have success, you feel incredible, on top of the world…until the next thing happens. If you find yourself going into Monday mornings already feeling completely drained. Sure, all parents have weekends like that or maybe even feel like that a lot of the time. For these parents though, its all of the time. They find themselves hesitating to make plans because they just don’t know how things are going to go. Sometimes it feels like walking on eggshells around your little one and feeling like you have to do everything just right and one missed cue or incorrect interpretation will send everyone over the edge. Some great trick you discovered yesterday no longer works today.

Ironically, she does really well at daycare. I had serious fears that they were going to call me after a couple days and tell me that they couldn’t handle her…that they didn’t have the staff to give her the attention she needs. While I was incredibly relieved this didn’t happen, it also added to my own feelings of inadequacy. What was I doing wrong?? I’ve observed her at daycare though now enough times that I really think she does so well there because there is always so much going on. She also does well when Tim and I bring her to races. She will just look around and take everything in. She probably wouldn’t do as well in a smaller setting. Even my parents who have always said “Oh she’s so good.” Have witnessed some of her incredible temper. And we have now started to get reports from daycare that some days she does have a difficult time or she’s sad and needs more attention from her providers. She’s is highly unpredictable.

We’ve tried to do schedules with her to help with so much of this and we’ve come to realize she just does her own thing no matter what. For a while we were putting her to bed at 8:30. We did a whole nighttime routine and she went down great and we could at least count on that. Then we’d find that she would just get really fussy around 7:30 and start the inconsolable crying so we would try all these things and finally just put her to bed at 8 pm and she went right to sleep. So we would try the next night to put her to bed at 8 again and she would fight us until 9:15. She’s not any more consistent at daycare either. Sometimes she naps at 9 am, sometimes not until 11. Sometimes she naps for 20 minutes 3 times a day and other times she naps for 2-3 hours! Our daycare sends her home with a report every day and we have been saving them and for the last 2 months no two days have looked the same with her!

So there it is. I’ve accepted that Alexandra just has more needs than most babies and that is fine. She is who she is and I love her. The article goes on to say that if you can give these babies enough of what they need they can go on to be highly successful adults. Some of these qualities that can be challenging to deal with in babies can in fact turn into great characteristics. She’s got a stubbornness/determination that is fierce. It is my goal, as she grows to help her develop these traits she already possesses so that she’s not afraid to stand up for what she believes in, or chase after her dreams in life.

When I think about the years ahead of us, I can just tell that she’s going to grow into a child that can figure out pretty quickly just how to push our buttons. She will probably challenge our authority and we may have some passionate discussions ahead of us. I also have a feeling that she will blow us away with her tenacity and will follow through on any and all talents she may possess to the absolute best of her abilities. And I look forward to all of that.

Sometimes Tim and I compare what we’re going through (especially with the lack of sleep) to that of others and feel frustrated. At the same time she brings me so much absolute joy and I take so much delight in all the wonderful new things we’re able to do with her every single day. Its not a completely one-sided give-give-give. She gives us priceless gifts every single day and I love her exactly the way she is. Sure, the day I’m able to get 5 hours of uninterrupted sleep I will probably get up and do a happy dance. Until then, I’m just going to have to find new ways to cope instead of trying to force my unique daughter into some mold that she never was meant to fit into.

I want to do it all, and do it all really well and I just can’t. Being a parent is something that I have to do well and absolutely will not compromise on that. At work I have to give my best too in hopes that the rewards my family receives make it more than worth it. My running? That may be one of the things I’m going to have to let go into “maintenance mode” for a while. I don’t like it, yet I can’t keep burning myself out like this. So what if I don’t do a marathon this fall? I can still do a half marathon! So what if I run 25-30 miles a week instead of 50? I’ll still maintain my current fitness level and it won’t take too much time to get it back up again when I actually have the energy to do so.

Alexandra has taught me there is really only so much I can control in life. And I am a total control freak.

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