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What Is A High Needs Baby?

Updated on November 29, 2008
radgirl profile image

Sunshine is a wife, mother of four, a relationship expert, a journalist, a photographer, a public speaker, and author.


What is a high needs baby? High needs babies are not special needs babies, they are ‘need my mommy, and only my mommy' babies. All babies cry, but high needs babies scream the second they aren't right next to their mothers, they want to feed every second of the day, they won't sleep alone, and everything bothers them. Parents are worn out by the end of the day after caring for a high needs baby, I know, I have one. Many parents told me she just had colic, but I knew there was something more to it. I didn't give up, and finally I found the right pediatrician who told me I wasn't crazy, or a bad mother, but that my child was high needs. At first, I was shocked at his statement! What was wrong with her? Laughing a little, he calmed me down and told me that high needs was not special needs, just ‘mommy needs'. Here are some signs that your baby may be high needs:


  • Enter the baby-and the screaming

From the second my daughter was born, she wanted nothing to do with anyone but her mother. She screamed if I even left long enough to go to the bathroom. High needs babies are very insecure and put more energy into their crying than other babies. Babies cry so that we know they need something, and high needs babies will shriek and loose that cute baby cry much earlier than other babies, because their feelings of insecurity are much more intense.

  • Holy cow, how can you eat so much!

High needs babies want to constantly feed. I breastfed, so I felt like she was latching on all day and all night, and that was the only thing that soothed her. At first, I thought my body wasn't making enough milk for her, but she was gaining weight at a normal pace. Then, I was sure she would explode from too much milk, so I tried a pacifier, which you'll find with a lot of high needs babies, because they want mom. Here's where we separate western culture from the rest of the world, because a high needs baby will not, and should not be put on a feeding schedule. My pediatrician told me just to let her eat when she needed it, and she would be happier. My body started to make less milk per feeding naturally, and I nursed her on demand. Western culture norm frowns upon that, but scientifically, it makes a happier, more secure child. The skin-to-skin factor of breastfeeding also has shown to soothe babies, especially high needs babies. This is great for breastfed babies rather than formula fed babies, because using a bottle as a pacifier is not a good idea.

  • Who put a quarter in that kid?

High needs babies are much more hyper than other babies, and this follows into toddlerhood beyond. Also, they're muscles are more tense than other babies, so they hate to be swaddled. Baby massage works wonders in these tight little bundles of joy. My daughter is almost two, and still loves having her legs massaged. It was one of the only things that would calm her down as an infant.

Never shake a baby


  • I want it NOW

I want it now, and if I don't get it now, I'm going to let you know until you give it to me! Learn your babies cues, because high needs babies don't have time for you to go through the list of things that could be wrong. This makes it easier on the baby as well as the parents. High needs babies are very demanding, and as infants, their demands are not selfish, they are survival. Of course, as the child grows older, you do not want to give into every demand, but if you set the foundation when they're infants that you'll cover their needs, they will be more secure as toddlers.

  • SLEEP!!!

If you feel like your high needs baby never sleeps, it's only because everything wakes them up. My daughter would not sleep unless she had a hand on me. That child had seismic sensors, because if I even moved too much, she would wake up and immediately scream as if some one was murdering her. High needs babies don't switch gears easily, and going from awake to asleep is a huge change, so you cannot lay them down until they are in a deep sleep. Also, high needs babies often wake up between the transitions of sleep stages, which makes it hard for them to reach deep sleep, so they awaken more easily. Don't give up though, just understand that your high needs baby has different sleep needs. Let your baby cuddle with you until his face is expressionless, and his limbs are limp before you lay him down. Let your to-do list go, and just embrace the 20-30 minutes with your little one. Again, I separated the western culture's beliefs, and allowed the family bed. High needs children will often only sleep through the night when they have physical contact with mom. If you must lay your child down, don't give her any extra stimuli, because high needs babies can't process it very well. Don't use mobiles, crib toys, or anything else that will keep your baby from sleeping.

  • No one will ever want to baby-sit her

You may feel that no one will ever want to baby-sit your high needs child. A high needs baby will never learn to be independent, and going back to western culture separation, mothers and babies were not meant to be separated. To a baby, they are part of their mother, and high needs babies suffer from severe separation anxiety and insecurity. They feel frightened when they are not with their mommies, and this is normal. It would be like you leaving your arms or legs at home to go on a trip, having no idea of your destination, what will happen when you get there, and no clue when you can go back home to your limbs. Studies show that infants who spend more time attached to mom, and are breastfed on cue have less anxiety. Eventually, your child will trust more and more people, but it will take time, and if something doesn't feel right about some one, they will let you know, and loudly. Don't force a high needs child into a caregiver situation. It will only make the anxiety worse, especially for the first six months. If you have to leave your child with a provider, be sure that provider has enough experience with high needs children. A lot of shaken babies are products of frustrated parents and caregivers of high needs babied.



If you feel your blood begin to boil, and you become angry with your child, ask

for help. Enlist your spouse, a trusted family member, or friend to assist you. Don't ever shake a baby, it can cause brain damage or death in an instant. Most people who shake a baby don't do it just because they are mean people. They are people who love their babies, but don't know how to calm down. If you must, place your child in a safe approved crib or playpen, and go outside of your home to cool off. Don't ever let your anger get the best of you. High needs babies are just that, high needs. They will take more time, more patience, and they will test your will to the very limits possible.

  • Why me?

You may ask yourself why your baby is high needs. No one is really sure, but I believe that since things in my own life created such anxiety in me during my pregnancy, I passed it on to my daughter. Some believe that pain medications, or high blood pressure during pregnancy are the causes. Either way, raising a high needs baby takes more than just some patience, it takes dedication, and extra work. Over time, the symptoms are less severe, but I feel very close and it tune with my daughter. Perseverance will prevail, so don't give up.


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    • radgirl profile image

      radgirl 2 years ago from Somewhere in outer space

      Thank you so much!

    • moonlake profile image

      moonlake 2 years ago from America

      In our family, we had a high needs son and a high needs granddaughter and she is still that way, and now a high needs great-granddaughter. I understand completely what your talking about. Interesting hub voted up.

    • Aime F profile image

      Aime 4 years ago from Trudeauland (it's like Disneyland but hotter)

      Great article and great update! My kiddo was a high needs infant and she's slowly mellowing out now at 2... though she certainly has her moments still. I've come across several people who think "high needs" isn't really a thing, or that babies are high needs because of something the parents are doing. My husband and I are the most relaxed people on the planet; we certainly didn't transfer any high needs vibes on! She was born with that temperament, and I'm actually quite thankful for it now. She's so strong-willed, smart, feisty and spirited. She is definitely her own person and she rocks it.

    • profile image

      Janelle Carter 4 years ago

      Such a great article. Totally what I needed back when my little guy was just born. You took the words right out of my mouth and explained it when I wasn't able to. Now that my little one is nearing on the weening off of the breast, wanted to know how you dealt with that? Since my baby feeds all the time still, wanted to know some suggestion on how to ween him. What worked for you, what didn't, what would you have liked to have known? Thank you!

    • radgirl profile image

      radgirl 5 years ago from Somewhere in outer space

      What a great question! I am happy to say that she is now a very energetic 5-year-old. Not in an ADHD way, but she is academically ahead, has a huge heart to help, and has completely leveled out. I'm not going to lie, the first year was exhausting. The second year there was some separation anxiety, but nothing I couldn't tackle, and nothing outside of the norm. The third year and on was smooth sailing. Keep your chin up, there is peace coming!!

    • profile image

      Evan 6 years ago

      So radgirl, it's been years since your originally wrote this piece. How did your high needs baby develop over time? At what age/stage did she start to mellow out? I ask because we definitely have a high needs daughter (who's only 9 months old)...and we are exhausted.

    • profile image

      RO 6 years ago

      wonderfull site. I was lucky to get 5 months off to care for my HD baby. She is now two very independent. However when tired she still clings a lot and gets very demanding. Finally my hubby and i are sneaking a few moments of intimacy in our relationship. Weaning was very difficult but it has gone a long way in helping with the transition

    • radgirl profile image

      radgirl 6 years ago from Somewhere in outer space

      Mak, I applaud your dedication to your child. It's exhausting work, I know, but it will get better. Just keep nurturing, and remember, sometimes it's okay to let the baby cry, walk out, and close the door just for your sanity. As long as your husband us supportive, it will all get better.

    • radgirl profile image

      radgirl 6 years ago from Somewhere in outer space

      Jesse, just make sure you're doing what is best for your child. A lot of people told me that I spoiled my youngest because she was a high needs baby, but that wasn't the case. There is something to be said about finding a balance between trying to develop less attachment and creating a failure to thrive situation. Make sure the people telling you this are early childhood professionals, not friends or family who think they know best. Even people with the best intentions can give the worst advice.

    • profile image

      Mak 6 years ago

      My DD is a high needs baby too! At the hospital the nurses said she would cry and fuss when she wasn't with me. At 2 weeks I was told she is nursing a lot due to a growth spurt. For weeks to follow nothing would calm or soothe her unless she was breeding. I truly felt like the human pacifier. There would be no 20 mins and pop off. She would sleep a little and then nurse. She refused a pacifier or bottle. I wondered every day when I was going to eat or shower or even go to the bathroom! Even putting my dd down for a diaper change was traumatic for her. At 8 weeks she seemed to daily get better. Some days were better then others. Under FLMA I took the full 12weeks off to give her as much as I could until I had to return to work. This is when I introduced a bottle. (even though she wanted to nurse after) it allowed some of my anxiety to decrease knowing she wouldn't starve when I go back to work. We bought a rocking play which allowed me to put her down in it (with the angle) and entertain her with music toys. This allowed me to eat too. I put together a survival environment around the breast feeding rocking chair that allowed me to snack, read parent magazines, etc.(my iPad saved my sanity. I utubed and googled everything to get my hands wrapped around what was going on.) car rides are a joke. She hates them and ends up making herself sick. My relatives are needy themselves and want to come over all the time and spend time with the baby. I found this was additional added anxiety that was added on and I needed to have help from my husband telling people no. (yes the family complains and still pushes regardless of the fact that you might just bite their head off if they even enter your front yard or if they continue to give they advice on what your doing or should not be doing) my dd sleeps with me in our spare bedroom. She has started to pull off and continue sleeping but must be close to or touching my boob to stay aleep. This is the only way I get more then 1hour of sleep. As she sleeps long I will move back into bed with my husband. Which brings up another topic...intimacy.. I just laughed at the doctor when she asked me about birth control. Depending on what kind of support you have with your partner can help you or make it even more demanding. The more info I could get my hands I I emailed to him to read. This gave him answers and understanding that took some of the weight off my shoulders.

    • profile image

      Jessy 6 years ago

      I'm being told that my high need baby needs to be trained now to prevent her from being much worse in the future I.e sleep alone, leaving her alme with people... She's10 months old now. I see progress, but I do wonder if there is something I can do for the future.

    • profile image

      M's Momma 6 years ago

      I am so happy that I have found this forum! Until yesterday, I had been thinking that I was failing as a parent and that I couldn't do anything to make my little girl happy. Finally, I stumbled past the term "high needs" and did a little research. Dr. Sear's initial information has made me feel worlds better. Since my daughter was born, and we began to get to know her, we have known that she was a little needier than the rest of the babies we knew. There have been many occasions when talking to our friends about their children that I have been baffled that children sleep through the night and take naps longer than ten minutes. Everyone has told us to let our little girl "cry it out", which we did try, and had terrible results. The doctors insisted that we had to let her cry, and couldn't feed her as often at night. She literally screamed for two hours, until we gave her that bottle. She will not sit and play by herself, she needs to be interacted with and entertained. She demands to be noticed and acknowledged. We have completely changed everything that we have ever thought about parenting and are finally starting to realize that recommendations are just that, recommendations, they do not work for every child. Though the past seven months have been completely exhausting, that little girl is incredible. She is so smart and incredibly determined. She makes us smile more than anything in this world, and though sometimes I pray for more than five hours of sleep a night, I wouldn't trade her for anything.

      Basically, my point is to other moms who might be reading this and wondering what they are doing wrong, you probably aren't. These high needs babies are their own people, and they are just inserting their personalities a little earlier than others. You are not alone, and I am so glad to finally see that I am not either.

    • profile image

      Terri Marie 6 years ago

      I think my son is high needs.. though I never thought to ask the doctor about it.. Ever since day one you could not put my son down without him screaming his head off.. The nurses in the hospital carried him around all night the night he was born just so I could get a few hours sleep.. When he was 2 days old he nurses 95% of the day until my nipples were scabbed and bleeding.. I find it so frustrating that everyone says he's spoiled, and even his father says we should just let him cry it out.. like that would ever work. He continues to get more and more worked up, never calms himself down, and he does end up sleeping in his bed for a few hours a night, but even at 8 months old he still wakes up 2-3 times a night.. and won't sleep in his crib for naps.. I have to lie with him in order to get him to sleep and stay asleep. He goes to his father sometimes.. more now than he used to.. but the second he sees me come in the room he's automatically hysterical and wants me to pick him up. It's frustrating because I never seem to get anything done through the day.. laundry has to wait until he's asleep at night, and if I want to clean I have to catch him in a good mood and pass him off to my boyfriend's stepsister and clean as fast as I can because I get about 20 minutes to myself tops.

      I hate that my boyfriend's father and stepmother are always telling me I have to wean him from breastfeeding, because I know in my heart that it would just stress him out too much right now.. I know I'll have too soon, he's got 2 teeth on the bottom and has already drawn blood.. but I feel alone, because even my boyfriend is uncomfortable with me breastfeeding when we go out.. so we don't usually go anywhere.. and I can't just pump a bottle to give to him because.. he won't take it. He never has taken to a bottle, and he hates the taste of formula.. Our doctor has recommended that I breastfeed as long as I possibly can and says that it's best to breastfeed for 2 years.. Sometimes my son's strong personality and overly fussy tendencies make me feel like I'm a bad mother, but I'm doing the best I can with what I've got.. hopefully that's enough!

    • profile image

      Jessica Hailey 6 years ago

      I just began reading about high need babies last night..I believe my little one is high need also...She was born at 36 weeks...ever since then, except the first few days, she has been stuck to me...she took a while to start breast feeding by her being a little early and i had to pump to get a milk supply...once i did...OH, BOY!!! That was it!!she has a few days where she will sit and watch TV or baby einstien...or play on a play mat for a while, but most of the time...she is with me..sometimes her father can't even hold her...she sleeps with us and nurses all night unless i give her a bottle for a little bit of a break and some needed rest(or due to a tummy ache)...if she is awake you never know how she is going to be...she doesn't like strange places...everyone keeps saying "She's spoiled".."Just let her cry and she'll eventually stop"...they don't understand that no she doesn't stop she get histerical!! The Pied. also told me to put her on a feeding schedule wich doesn't work!!!sometimes breastfeeding is the only thing she will accept...she is attached to me right now!!! She has gotten a little better now that some things interest her( she is 10 weeks old now), her daady can play with her and distract her if she is not in a needy phase...she doesn't like me to play with her at all...when i have her she just wants to nurse.. I love my little girl though..she is aperfect blend of me and her daddy...i wuldn't have her any other way because then she wouldn't be her..noe one will ever understand until they spend more than one day with her( or a few hours like the ones that are passing judgement) or they have one of their own...

    • Adam Sherman profile image

      Adam Sherman 7 years ago

      Very helpful hub. That's what we have and every time he sees his mommy, even when he's with me, he will cry until she picks him up.

    • radgirl profile image

      radgirl 7 years ago from Somewhere in outer space


      Weaning a high needs baby is something that every mother has to decide for themselves. Personally, I waited until 24 months just because she needed that bond so badly and research shows that it boosts immunity. Teeth were never a problem for her because she was just happy to be nursing.

      I did a little more research, and it's best if you be prepared for a long haul. High needs babies take longer to overcome things. Patience is your best friend, and use your support system. Remember that mommy time is important, even if it's just long enough to run to 7-11 for your favorite snack. If you're ready, and it feels right, listen to your intuition. Fill his time with other things like manipulative toys. If he's screaming, his head off, try to redirect him with something he loves to do.

      I hope this helps!

    • profile image

      Gili Back 7 years ago

      is there anyway to wean a high needs baby and to help them sleep better? my son is almost 1 year and i have been super patient as I know he is high needs but with all the teeth its time to get my boobs back.

    • profile image

      MQ 8 years ago

      I always feel that other mothers with non-high need babies I talked to, never fully understand what it's like raising a child like mine. Thanks for your entry and others' comments, now I feel much better and stronger to continue mothering my son..I am not alone in this :)

    • radgirl profile image

      radgirl 8 years ago from Somewhere in outer space


      Don't leave him with anyone who you feel will not have the patients to care for him without frustration. Good people who have perfect records have been known to accidentally hurt babies under stress.

      Start small. If he'll tolerate daddy for a while, start small. Let daddy watch him while you take a small nap, or get a pedicure, or have coffee with a friend. Stay close enough so that you can go to him if he comes unglued. You'll find that over time he'll tolerate more and more time with daddy.

      It gets better, and when he grows older, you'll be proud that you put in the extra time needed to care for him. It's exhausting now, but makes for special moments in your memory.

    • profile image

      MamaKrzewski 8 years ago

      I think my child is high needs. He refuses to be left with Daddy for long, and will not tolerate anyone else. He just met his cousin who is close in age, and seemed so frightened. I am often drained, but I'm afraid to leave him with someone who will hurt him because they don't understand his sensitivity...

    • profile image

      Rose 9 years ago

      Man, that so totally describes my child! He's more tightly wound than my other four put together, and has been since he was jumping around in the womb. Off to research baby massage, since that's one thing we haven't tried yet...

    • radgirl profile image

      radgirl 9 years ago from Somewhere in outer space

      There is no way that you can spoil a baby by showing it the love and attention it needs to feel safe. Good job Holly, you know your baby, and you're standing up for what you believe is right for her!!

      Don't let anyone tell you that you're being a bad parent by taking care of your baby.

      I'm glad I could give you a feeling of normalcy, because there are a lot of us out there.

    • profile image

      Holly 9 years ago

      I am also a parent of a high needs baby girl. I knew from the first week of her life that she was different. Her cries were painful to hear and breastfeeding was and is the only thing that calms her. She is 4 months old and our doctor encouraged us to stop feeding to sleep and try the Ferber Method. I know for a fact that it will not work so I am not even going to try! She would never stop screaming and I couldn't take it. She sleeps in our bed, and even though she wakes every 2 hours or so I still feel in my gut that it's the best place for her to be. Of course none of my family or friends understand our situation, and I am told constantly that she is spoiled. I've learned that you are the only one who truly knows your child and you should always trust your instincts. I pray that in time she will start to be a more calm and secure child, but for now I have dropped everything else to make her happy. Thanks for sharing your story and helping others find someone they can finally relate to!!

    • radgirl profile image

      radgirl 9 years ago from Somewhere in outer space

      Think of a the relationship between a high needs baby and his/her parents like this: Picture a rubber string(I call it the balloon string) that connects you and your baby. When you're farther away from your high needs baby, they can feel the string tighten, and it stresses them out and makes them fearful that the string will snap. Some studies on SIDS are about this very thing, and I believe that some babies feel that string snap, and they leave this world.

      Life with a high needs baby gets easier, but there is no way that you can spoil a six month old child by showing them love and re-enforcing their feelings of security.

      Keep your chin up, you're not alone.

    • profile image

      Yolanda 9 years ago

      Oh my goodness! Thanks for this - I only came across his term last night and it describes my son perfectly. I am so grateful to know that this is more common than I thought. No one I speak to seems to understand. It's hard when you hear other mums complain about their baby waking once or twice a night when your baby screams the house down for an hour or two then wakes every 2 hours at night! We co-slept for 6 months but got comments that we were spoiling him etc. These people did not understand this was the only way we could get ANY rest. Bcos not only did he not sleep well at night he brely slept during the day either. As a very young infant of 2-3 months he would be awake for 6 hours straight. I thought this was normal till the health nurse told me that they're meant to sleep every 1.5 hours at this age. Yeah right I thought. His nicknames as a young baby were Dictator and Mr. Alert! He's 11 months now and still a handful but easier than he was. He only has a one hour sleep a day, still wakes at least once a night and cries whenever mum or dad leaves the room. If I say anything to other mums they just look at me like "all babies are like that!" But I know in my heart he is a lot more high needs than the norm.

    • sminut13 profile image

      sminut13 10 years ago from singapore

      i'm glad that i saw this too. it's the same for me. it's really tiring and frustrating at times but you feel needed and you feel like you can do anything when the child just wants you only. hehe guess it's a bit of pride there.

    • radgirl profile image

      radgirl 10 years ago from Somewhere in outer space

      High needs babies are wired differently from the get go, so I think you could create "needy" *wink* children with too much attention, but high needs children are wound tightly from the very beginning, and they usually grow out of it. I thought I was just crazy when people told me it was just colic, because I knew it was more, and it was extremely frustrating at times. My husband was upset as well, because he felt like his baby didn't want him. You have to rearrange your whole life around, but when it's all said and done, I am grateful for the extra time I got with her as an infant. I'm glad my hub reached some one. Thanks.

    • sminut13 profile image

      sminut13 10 years ago from singapore

      wow i hadn't heard of high needs babies but i would have to say my son was one too. he didn't even calm down when his own father held him. so i always had to bring him with me wherever i went and i didn't dare to let anyone babysit him for fear that he'd shock them. thanks for the hub. now he's fine though he still asks for me from time to time. he's 5 this year by the way. grins

    • Whitney05 profile image

      Whitney 10 years ago from Georgia

      I've never heard of this. It's interesting. And I could see where it woulc be frustruating, too. Is it possible to create high-needs children because of babying and constant attention when a baby?


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