My second child is what experts call a “high needs” child. For the first six months of her life, she cried every time she got in the car—she cried a lot, actually. She only wanted me to hold her because no one else would do and she constantly used me as a human pacifier. She didn’t like to sleep in her crib and she refused to take a bottle unless she was starving and screamed for a few hours about it.
It was even harder when she was only 6 weeks old and wanted to eat every hour and a half, while I had a toddler running around the house and daddy was out of town for work. Or when she was cluster feeding from 6 to 10 p.m. every single nightand I could barely get up from the couch.
The beginning was rough—really rough, and I wasn’t prepared for it at all. I genuinely thought all of my babies would be just like my first: Fairly independent, social butterfly from day one, easy to sleep train and loved bottles. But that’s just not how high needs babies roll.
High needs babies need a bitmore TLC than most. Experts say they cry a lot, don’t sleep much, have mood swings, don’t take to schedules very well and you can’t put them down. It’s emotionally draining. It can make you feel resentful, exhausted, angry, depleted… Honestly? It can make you feel like you’ve got nothing left. It can make you question your parenting skills—and your sanity.
There is plenty of advice out there for parents of high needs children. Some of it includes pretty tall orders—get away for a day, hire someone to help and the like. But it’s really all about what works for you. Here’s a little advice from someone who has been there and survived, even when I thought I wouldn’t!
- MAKE yourself take a break. Even for three minutes. Even if the baby is crying her head off. If your partner isn’t there to help facilitate it, call a friend who can come over and help. If you can, get away for an hour. Drive to get ice cream and blast your favorite music. Go for a walk. Anything that makes you happy. And if you can’t get help, put the baby in her crib so she’s safe and walk away for a few minutes.
- Remind yourself that this stage is temporary. Whether you do it once a day or 1,000 times a day, say it like a mantra: “This is only temporary. This is only temporary.” Pretty soon, you’ll be in a new stage with its own challenges and victories.
- Keep trying to find what works for your baby. At first, it will feel like an uphill battle. Trying out 13 different types of bottles is exhausting and frustrating, yet the elation that comes from finding the one that works is euphoric. Once you start making some headway, you can revel in those little victories.
- Let go of your ideals and expectations. This might be the biggest challenge. We all have this lovely idea about how parenting will be—some of us even after the first kid shows up—but it all goes out the window when they show up. It’s an even bigger letdown with a high needs baby. Set low expectations. And those ideas of how great it’s all gonna go? Be like Elsa and just “let it go.” (Seriously.)
Mind you, this is what worked for me and may not work for everyone. But here’s what most of us might want to consider: If you stop and think about it, it must be pretty rough coming into this world after being warm and cozy in a mom’s belly for nine months. Some babies adjust faster—or “better”—than others.
I tried to remind myself of that during those really tough moments. I told myself through tears that she just wanted to be held in mommy’s arms because it made her feel safe and loved. And before I knew it four months had flown by and all of the sudden, my baby was happier because she LOVED baby purees. Victory number one! And then I realized my baby didn’t cry during car rides anymore. Victory number two! I took eachvictory, one at a time, and celebrated each one like it was Christmas morning.
So, to the parents in the thick of it with a high needs baby: hang in there! It doesget better. I promise. Celebrate your victories. Do whatever takes to keep your sanity. Before you know it, you’ll be celebrating more victories than you can even imagine right now.