How to cope with your “high-need baby”

If your tot cries intensely and needs to be carried all the time, try these useful strategies to cope…

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Having a baby is indeed a life-changing experience.

You experience the wonder of growing a baby inside you and endure the pain and rewards of childbirth before being introduced into the scary but amazing world of parenting.

There’s no denying that parenting can be difficult, especially if you have a wailing baby who refuses to sleep or be put down.

Some people describe these clingy babies as “Velcro babies”. The term “high need baby” to describe these slightly more difficult babies was coined by American paediatrician and author Dr William Sears.

Nor does it have anything to do with what you ate during pregnancy, or how you parent your newborn. In fact, your baby behaves this way because it’s his personality.

“High-need babies can’t rely on sleep to retreat from sensory overload. Instead, they overreact.”

Fonnie Lo, assistant director (clinical) and lactation consultant at Thomson Parentcraft Centre, notes that it’s normal for babies to cry. “What parents need to do is to understand the cry, respond appropriately, and learn to calm themselves, too.”

If your baby checks most of these boxes, you may dealing with a high-need baby.

* Cries intensely The cry of a high-need baby is more urgent and demanding. He protests more loudly than the other babies if his needs are not met. He may clench his fist, arch his back and his entire body is tense as he cries.

* Not relaxed The mind and the body of a high-need baby seldom relaxes. You may have difficulty swaddling him, or even holding him still to breastfeed.

* Feeds often If breastfeeding is how your high-need baby is comforted, you can be sure that he’ll do this as often as he can. This means that you should probably throw any rigid schedules out of the window and be prepared to breastfeed 18 to 20 times a day or more.

* Wakes frequently High-need babies have difficult falling and staying asleep. According to Dr Sears, “High-need babies can’t rely on sleep to retreat from sensory overload. Instead, they overreact.” In addition, their keen awareness and curiosity about their environment keeps them alert even into the night. They likely need physical contact with their mums to fall asleep and stay asleep.

* Unpredictable What worked to settle your high-need baby yesterday may not work today. He can be an extreme people-pleaser at one moment, charming everyone with his cheeky smiles, then unleashing his anger and screaming uncontrollably the next.

* Can’t be put down Your high-need baby craves your touch. They don’t just need to be carried, they also want to be held upright where all the action is, and they want you to sway from side to side, bop up and down, and walk round the block ― for hours.

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For frustrated parents who feel at a loss over how to soothe their high-need baby, it’s important to calm themselves down first. “A lot of the mums who come in with intense babies, the mothers themselves are a little tense,” Lo says.

To calm yourself as a parent, you can:

1. Set aside unrealistic expectations Don’t expect your baby to be nursing according to schedule, or sleeping through the night after six weeks.

2. Include other caregivers Let dad help as much as possible, and let grandma or aunts chip in. so you can take a break.

3. Realise that your baby is learning, too As much as you are learning how to be a parent, your baby is learning to be your baby, while picking up brand-new skills, like soothing himself. Realise that you’re working as a team to make this work!

4. Talk to people Keep your BBF’s number on standby, or take your baby for a walk around the neighbourhood. Your hands are full with your baby, but you need adult conversation. Even saying hi to the neighbours can perk your day up!

Parents can take comfort in knowing that these high-need babies are like this because they know what they need to do to ensure that their needs are met.

But Lo adds that parents should not take for granted that there is nothing wrong with the baby. “First, make sure there are no medical problems, like reflux. Find out the cause and treat the cause accordingly. Then, learn a routine on how to settle the baby,” she suggests.

High-need babies are like this because they know what they need to do to ensure that their needs are met.

Lo suggests using different methods to calm the high-need baby down by promoting self-soothing and self-regulation.

* Talk or sing to your baby Slow down your speech and soften your voice. Dr Victoria Leong, a researcher at Cambridge University encourages mums to speak in ‘motherese’, a soothing singsong voice. “Control your tones and avoid getting agitated. Breathe deeply to calm yourself down,” Lo adds. She prefers talking to the baby, rather than shushing, “If you don’t know how to shush, it may sound like you’re saying ‘shoo, shoo’, which has a negative meaning!”

* A warm bath and massage Water therapy helps, Lo notes. She suggests a warm bath every evening, followed by a gentle massage. Stroke him from the top of his brow down to his back. Or just a simple tummy massage can also help.

* Tapping rhythmically Tap the baby on the shoulder blade or the buttocks in a rhythmic way to calm your baby.

Lo does not recommend rocking too much, “as you can create a habit.” The same goes for the use of the baby carrier. “You can use it to calm him down, take him for a short walk in the evening as part of the routine. But don’t put him in a carrier to walk around the minute he cries as this can develop into a habit,” she notes.

She adds that white noise is okay in the short term, but can damage the baby’s hearing in the long term, particularly if you play it at very high volumes. “If you do use it, place it at the corner of the room, not right next to the baby in his cot,” she says.

Most high-need babies outgrow the fussy period ― usually after a month or two. But Lo cautions that parents should be careful with how they meet their baby’s needs.

“A fussy baby could turn into a tantrum-throwing toddler, stamping their feet and shouting when things don’t go their way,” she points out.

Photos: iStock

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