The High Need Baby: One Word – Draining

Never before in my life have I been this exhausted and tired. When Livi was born, she took all the energy I had and then cried for more. She never seemed satisfied or content. Some days, I truly thought I could not go on any longer – yet somehow I did.

In the beginning, it was a constant mix of nursing and holding her, walking and rocking, singing and shushing, and finally tiptoeing through the house, only to start all over again a few minutes later.

Which is how many new parents would describe their new lives. The difference for us was that Livi would cry and fuss, unless we held her. And that this was going to last longer than six weeks or three months or even six months…

Putting her in her crib was simply impossible. The minute we moved her from our arms, she would wake up and scream all over again. We just could not put her down, not in a swing or bouncy chair or anywhere else. She even disliked being in a baby carrier or sling. All she wanted was to be held.

I spent many nights sitting in bed nursing her until she would fall asleep in my arms. Then I would sit as quietly as possible, hoping she would sleep for a little while so that my husband could get some rest as well. Thirty minutes to an hour later and she was up again. My husband would take over and walk around the house with her and I would try to get some sleep.

It was hard to keep going and stay positive. I feared the day my husband had to go back to work. How was I supposed to take care of her, and of me?

Many days during those first weeks and months my baby was not the only one crying. For me it was mostly exhaustion. The only way I could get a break was by letting Livi nap while I held her in the rocking chair. I could not do much this way but at least I could sit and watch some TV or read. I started stashing water bottles and snacks next to the rocking chair so I would get at least something to eat.

I was also frustrated. From other new moms I would hear how great their little ones were doing, some sleeping through the night at just a few weeks old, some sitting content in their swings while mom was cooking dinner for dad.

I felt inadequate and like a failure. What was I doing wrong? Had I already screwed up my child?

In the end, the only thing that helped me get through this stage was patience and time. I pretty much had to stick it out no matter how rough it was for all of us.

That, and learning all I could about high need babies once I knew what was going on.

It didn’t make her any less draining. But it did give me some perspective. I learned that there were others going through the same thing and that alone gave me so much hope and strength.

I also began to stop thinking that something was wrong with her and simply accepted that this was just the way she was. And once I truly accepted it, things got a lot easier.

I was finally able to focus on the good things in life, the moments that melt your heart. Her first smile, her content sigh when she would drift off to sleep in my arms, the first time she gave me one of her baby kisses, the first time she gave me a hug, the first time she said mama, …

How about you? Do you have a baby that leaves you running on empty? How do you cope?

Flickr Photo by limaoscarjuliet

30 comments on “The High Need Baby: One Word – Draining

  1. merelymothers says:

    For the first six months, I felt like I did nothing but sit on the sofa, nursing our daughter and watching TV. Nursing was one of the only things that was a constant comfort to her, and like you, I was eager to keep her calm, even if it meant letting her sleep on me and not getting anything done myself during her nap.

    Then, after the six month point, she got more and more active, and now I can’t find a single moment to sit down at all! So, she’s still exhausting, but for different reasons. On the days when I find I’m particularly burnt out, I remind myself of how lucky we are to have a healthy, happy, active baby girl. And then
    I take a look at her when she’s sleeping, so I remember that there are peaceful moments πŸ™‚

    – Evanthia

    • hnMom says:

      Yes! I am also very grateful that she is a healthy little girl; we are very lucky to have her.
      The tough part in the beginning was that she didn’t seem very happy but rather distressed. I guess part of it was also her reflux, which thankfully is better controlled now.
      It was just heartbreaking to hear her cry so much. If anything, as a parent you want to be able to comfort your child and for the longest time we felt like we failed her in that respect.

  2. the speech monster says:

    “I also began to stop thinking that something was wrong with her and simply accepted that this was just the way she was.”
    i think acceptance is the key. for me now i’m learning to accept that this is benji’s condition and yes we may find the triggers – i’m still hopeful – but i have to accept that there will be bad, terrible days just as there will be awesome ones. πŸ™‚

    • hnMom says:

      Absolutely, acceptance is vital. When we started to accept, things got so much better. For a while I obsessed with finding out what was “wrong” with her. Was she in pain, did she not develop normally, why was she acting differently? Once I knew, I concentrated on being there for her and giving her the extra attention she needed. We all got along much better.
      And I guarantee you, there are many, many great days ahead. πŸ™‚

  3. Deni Lyn says:

    I’ve heard that I was a high needs baby myself, although there wasn’t a term for it. Instead the neighbors gossiped that my mother beat me. LOL. I know from what my Mom tells me how exhausting it can be. I’ve said this before, but I’ll say it again because I’m in awe of you: Your optimism is inspiring. I am not by nature a patient person (high needs perhaps?). On the off day when I can’t calm our little guy for a nap in his usual 10 minutes, I start to feel anxious. Then I remind myself that there are countless other Mothers facing even greater challenging situations with grace, and courage, and love. Thank you for getting the word out that every chid is different and parents must be flexible and patient. (Even if they sometimes weep silently while doing so). πŸ™‚

    • hnMom says:

      Your poor mom. Though I can somewhat relate. It is hard to go out sometimes, people do tend to judge. Attending a play group is tough when your child is the only one that wants to be held or cries more than the others. Then the other moms start telling me what I am doing wrong and/or judge me behind my back. I don’t think they think I beat her, but who knows.
      It can be pretty isolating when there are few people who understand and even your own family doesn’t get it.
      Thank you so much for all your supportive and encouraging comments! They help more than I can even begin to say!
      Hopefully, I can pay it forward and some of my posts will encourage others to hang in there.

  4. Deni Lyn says:

    We moms could do much better supporting one another rather than judging or offering opinions. We need all the support and community we can get! We have different lives, different children but we are all the same in our desire to raise healthy, happy kids. Livi is going to be some kinda’ crazy cool who know’s what astronaut ballerina princess some day and she will thank you for all your dedication. Unfortunately, even then you might not get much sleep. πŸ™‚

    • hnMom says:

      Lol, sounds good to me. πŸ™‚
      But seriously, it would be so much easier for everyone if moms, and for that matter women in general, were more supportive of each other. We all essentially face the same issues, so why make it even harder. I never understood this before, now I am just more vulnerable.

  5. littlebrownbaby says:

    I find that focusing on the good things in life (e.g., how cuddly she is, the sounds of her laugh, how playful she is, etc.) gets me through very frustrating moments as well.

    • hnMom says:

      Yes, it can make such a huge difference. Often, I just think how lucky I am to have her. That usually puts things in perspective for me. And once I relax, she relaxes and we are both in a better mood.

  6. munchow says:

    Babies are draining most parents – I certainly was drain by mine. But I can’t really imagine how it would be to care for a high need baby. As with most challenges – no matter how hard they are – we somehow fine a way to get through them. I think focusing on good things in life is always helpful. And accepting, as well as learning as much as possible. As you point out yourself. Livi looks really cute on the picture – a lovely picture by the way.

    • hnMom says:

      Yes, staying positive can make such a difference. It isn’t always easy but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try.
      I wish I could take credit for the picture. I actually found it on Flickr and thankfully, the photographer gave permission to use it. If you are interested, there is a link at the bottom of this post.

  7. My little guy is now 26 months old. As a baby he was up the vast majority of nights every 20 minutes for the first 10 months. After that it slowly got better with him learning to sleep an hour to 90 minute stretches. Now on a good night he will only be up 3 or 4 times. But throw in teething, or an illness and it can still be 8 to 10 times a night. It is exhausting! ANd what really gets me is the other parents who smugly say “every baby is a high needs baby” as though you are exaggerating and are just a wimp when faced with the reality of parenting.

    Eli also as a baby required constant motion. He wanted to be in arms, but you had to stand and sway or walk unless he was nursing. If the car came to a stoplight he would howl in misery until it turned green. Once he started crawling at 6 months he never stopped. Ever. Except those brief periods he would sleep. We since have learned that he has sensory processing disorder and with therapy he is getting so much better. He actually will sit with us now for a story or to play for a while. He is learning to tolerate sensations that used to really bother him. If we have another child like this I will try to access screening for SPD and therapy much sooner as it has helped so much. But Eli was my first and I thought he was just being Eli.

    On the positive side of having a high needs baby, I am so much more bonded with my son and he with us than we might have been had we not had to go through the fire together. If given a choice I would do it all again to have this precious little boy in my life, challenges and all. I just hope if we have another, that baby won’t be quite as high need or I wonder if I will survive.

    • hnMom says:

      Wow, you certainly have your hands full and know what you are talking about when it comes to high needs.
      I know what you mean when you say that others would tell you “every baby is a high need baby.” In my case, unfortunately, it was also my own family and in-laws who kept saying it, which became very frustrating for us.
      Yeah, I remember the constant demand for movement. Just holding her and sitting down or even standing up without moving around simply was not enough. With the one exception of nursing and thankfully she was and is a good nurser.
      I too hope that the next one will be at least a little bit less demanding. I am not sure I can handle a high need toddler and a high need baby at the same time.
      Thanks for stopping by and commenting and good luck with your little guy. πŸ™‚

  8. My toddler to this day REFUSES to sit in his high chair, stay in a stroller, be contained in a carseat, or remained seated in a cart. Anytime he has to get buckled into ANYTHING, it’s a meltdown.

    This of course means, my husband and I are constantly chasing after him… A peaceful stroll in the zoo? Psh, forget it! Shopping at the grocery store or at Target with just me and my toddler? Not possible. Going on long drives for more than 30 min? Yeah right, if you want to hear screams and squeals the whole way! Sit down for a mommy and me circle time at the library? Hah, only in my dreams will he stay seated that long! Enjoy a nice meal in a restaurant? Very funny, high chairs are a joke.

    Some parents tell me that that’s just how boys are, they want to keep moving and they don’t like to sit still, but my son being so physical all the time really does exhaust me.

    My son is a physical boy. He’s not destructive or abusive in his physicality, he just doesn’t like to stay seated. He likes to just run and climb and skip and dance and shuffle his feet all.the.time.

    Whenever I want to break down after a very exhausting day running around after my Energizer Bunny son, I read this and it helps me put things in a positive perspective:

    *Drained just like you,
    Khristine Anne

    • hnMom says:

      I can so relate to your struggles. But I just love what you shared in your post. Thank you for that, what a great reminder. πŸ™‚

  9. Sorcha O'Brien says:

    It is such a relief to find other ladies out there who are in exactly the same situation as I am. Having only recently come across the term ‘high needs’ a couple of days ago, it has been an enlightening past few days. For the past 5 and a half months I have been rocking, breastfeeding, pacing back and forth to no end wondering what the hell I am doing/have done wrong. Comparing myself to other mums out there who’s babies fed properly, slept ridicolous amount of hours, who were content playing or sitting in a swing, I was driving myself crazy.

    Now I know that my son requires a lot more of my patience, my understanding, my love than most babies out there, our future looks a little brighter! πŸ™‚

    • hnMom says:

      I remember the time when I first read about “high need” babies. It was such a huge relief. I still struggled, but the more I learned about it and the more I accepted it, the better I could handle it all and help my little girl.
      We now have an energetic toddler, who is curious and smart and affectionate. We still have our daily struggles. She needs a lot of attention and patience, which is essentially what made it so hard in the beginning when she was a baby. And she is really strong willed. But she also has a great personality and to see her grow up and become her own little person makes the extra effort so worth it.
      By the way, you may want to read Mary Sheedy Kurcinka’s books, especially “Spirited Child” and “Sleepless in America.” I have found these books so helpful and encouraging. She has tips for every age, although not as much for babies, but you get so many great ideas for sleep, playing, learning, meal time, etc. And it is always spot on.
      Good luck!

  10. Rob says:

    My child is now two and she still doesn’t sleep.

    • hnMom says:

      I hear you. Livi is now almost 2.5 years old and we still struggle from time to time. Though I am happy to report that it has been getting better over the last few months.

  11. Shameka says:

    Thank you for writing this. My high needs baby is now a high needs school aged kid and today was particularly draining. It’s so nice to know I’m not alone.

  12. Brittany says:

    Thank you so much for writing this! My daughter is 4 months old now and just yesterday I discovered Dr. Sears site on High Needs Infants. It was life changing! Since the day she was born all I ever heard was “wow, ive never… seen a baby so alert, active, sensitive, easily startled, sleep so little, cry so much”, etc… And all the criticism… Dear god, the criticism. From my partner, family and friends. All told me how I was doing it wrong. How terrible it was that she only slept on me (luckily broke that at 2 months) or that she coudlnt be set down (broke that at 3 months, slightly) or that no one could look at her or hold her other than me (shes still rocking this trait nicely). Now I hear how terrible it is that I nurse her laying down in my bed, so once she falls asleep I can log roll out of the bed and 2 hours later place her in a crib where maybe she will stay for an hour or two. No one understood that little tricks like this were the only way I was surviving my precious angel or how she seemed to be happy. She is the happiest baby ive ever seen, shes also the most dramatic. She can go from the loudest laugh to a full on scream in half a second. And being a new mom, I took every nasty look, every word someone said to heart. The last thing I wanted to do was screw up my kid. But she dosnt follow the rules of the baby books. The techniques that are suggested dont work… Liv needs me to do it her way and no other. Finally, after needing a night out to celebrate my birthday (and not getting out for 2 months) I left her with my parents. Afterwards I heard how she has problems, shes not normal, Ive done something wrong… All the advice, encouragement and descriptions of other peoples high needs babies have given me hope! Make me feel finally like im not a bad mom, like my child is just as perfect as I see her, that im not alone. Yes, my daughter exhausts me on some days. Yes, every move I make needs a contingency plan. But Im finally finding a grove for us and if it works why rock the boat? Thank you for helping me feel like my acceptance of my daughter and her “quirks” is ok.

    • hnMom says:

      I always say, follow your heart and your instincts. You are her mom, you know her best, you know what’s best for her.
      And don’t believe that she is not normal or has problems (unless there really is a medical reason, of course, like Livi’s reflux, which mad things worse). I like what Mary Sheedy Kurcinka says: high need or spirited children are normal children but “more.” More intense, more sensitive, more persistent, etc. Her book, “Raising your Spirited Child,” is also very good, especially for the times when your daughter is a bit older, say preschool age.
      Hang in there!

  13. nk330 says:

    I am loving your blog! It makes me feel like maybe I AM doing a good job with my son. I also am in disbelief when I hear about how great someone’s newborn is sleeping when I think back to the months that I spent living on the couch afraid to move lest I wake my baby. I am sure it contributed to my PPD. Nearly 8 months later, I still have days that I am absolutely drained and just pray for a somewhat decent night of sleep (fewer than 4 wakings). Thank you so much for your stories…it really helps me not feel so alone!

    • hnMom says:

      I am so glad my little blog helped you. That’s exactly why I did. I would still be writing but the older Livi got, the less naps she took and there just isn’t any time anymore. Sleep will get better though it may take time. But I can tell you that she is sleeping just fine now and has been for a few years. I am sorry to hear you struggle with PPD. I was lucky enough to not get it but I struggled with its cousin postpartum anxiety. All I can say is that it will get better. πŸ™‚

  14. Abby says:

    This is my life exactly! He’s sleeping on me now, it’s the only way I get any rest! I don’t get a nap, but just a chance to let my mind rest. I also keep water and snacks next to the rocking chair. Otherwise I wouldn’t eat!
    My cousin’s baby is close to my son’s age, and has been sleeping through the night since he was 8 weeks old. He is content just hanging out in a swing or bouncer. He doesn’t need constance attention. Sometimes I feel jealous, how come MY baby is so much work? But then I immediately remind myself that he is special and unique. I really feel that if I nurture his intense and curious baby self, that he’ll grow up to be and conpassionate, ambitious, determined, and successful man. Just like his Dad πŸ™‚

    • hnMom says:

      Thank you for posting such an encouraging comment. Hang in there, give it all you can give and keep nurturing. You are absolutely right, he is special and he will grow up to be an incredible kid, teenager, and man one day!!

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