The First Year With a High-Need Baby Is Freaking Exhausting

High Need Babies Exist, And Mine Might Be The Poster Child

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I am not a new mom. Okay, I mean, I kind of am, I guess. I have a fairly new baby. But she isn’t my first one. She’s my third (and last) one. I’ve done all this before. Twice. But in a lot of ways I feel like I’ve never done this before because my third is a high need baby, and she is just not like the others.

My other babies would happily play on the floor for a few minutes, or bounce around in a saucer. They’d take short naps in the swing, and stay asleep in their beds when I put them down. All babies are a lot of work, but my first two didn’t make me feel this tired or overwhelmed.

My third baby is intense. She needs near constant attention and affection. She’s an anti-sleep activist. A Boss Baby. She’s our family’s self-appointed CEO.

Who run the world? This girl.

Listen, I don’t personally buy into Dr. Bill Sears and his attachment parenting, vaccine-schedule-doubting woo woo. But I was awake for the 437th time one night a few months ago with a needy, wide awake baby hanging off my boob and I got desperate.

I started googling.

I came across his theory about “high need babies,” and let me tell you something. Even a stopped clock is right twice a day.

High need babies exist, and mine is the poster child.

It is tough.

She needs me all the time.

Not some of the time. Not most of the time.

ALL of the time.

I try to accommodate her. I do the best I can. We have an apparatus in the bathroom so she can sit directly next to me while I do my hair or makeup. (Wishful thinking. I mostly just hold her and pray I don’t take a mascara wand to the retina.)

I work while she sits next to me, pulling on my shirt, patting my shoulder, blowing raspberries on my arm, and babbling “mama, mama, mama” without ceasing.

She is allergic to sleep. During the day, she will only nap if she is directly next to me. I work from home, and I’ve started working in my bed, so I can tuck her next to my leg while I use my computer. She stirs every 15 or 20 minutes, reaching out to make sure I’m there. If I’m not, she’s up. That’s it. There is no soothing herself back to sleep.

She used to sleep a 4 or 5 hour stretch independently, but once she hit about 6 months and separation anxiety kicked in, that is out the window. I spend at least part of every night rocking her in a recliner just so she can sleep more than a few minutes. When I hold her, she acts like she can’t get close enough. She has to have her head under my chin, a handful of my hair in her little fist. She nuzzles in almost aggressively, like maybe if she tries hard enough, we will become one person and she will never have to be without me.

Sometimes, she can be convinced to play with her brothers long enough for me to shower or fold some laundry, but it’s not my seven-year-old’s job to babysit his sister. Every time I ask him to sit with the baby so I can get something done, I feel like I’m being unfair to him.

Marina Dyakonova/Getty

Oh, did I mention she won’t let me wear her? I have a billion baby-wearing apparatuses, and she will tolerate exactly one, and only on my husband.

The one silver lining this this whole situation is that she is easy to soothe. Very easy. All she wants is her mother. The minute we are back together, she settles right down. She’s not hard to please. She knows exactly what she wants, and as long as she has it, she is the smiling angel everyone else sees in photos.

As long as she is on me, or directly next to me and touching me, she’s the happiest baby alive. I’m not kidding. Sometimes, all I have to do is talk to her, and she just starts giggling and laughs until she falls right over. I take a gazillion photos of her every day of her life because she is so adorably smiley and loving.

She just wants me. And don’t get me wrong — I want her, too.

She’s a rainbow baby, and she is the last piece of my dream family. I wish I could accommodate her demands 24/7. I adore her.

But I have two other children I love just as much, as well as a house, a job and a husband.

And I’m a person! Sometimes, I just need to be ME without her for just a little while.

I can’t just hold her the entire day. So, I don’t. But every minute she spends whining or crying while I frantically try to accomplish something –- anything — makes me feel terrible. All she wants is me, and it feels cruel to make her cry when I could calm her down just by wrapping her in my arms.

For me, that’s really the hardest part of having a high need baby. I always feel like I am doing the right thing and the wrong thing at the exact same moment.

If I am sitting in a rocking chair with my baby, it feels right for her but wrong for the sink full of dishes. If I’m working or doing chores and she starts crying, it feels right for my job or my home, but wrong for my baby. Every minute of work I do while my husband distracts her comes with a twinge of guilt because I know for that entire time, my girl just wanted me to hold her.

Speaking of my husband, he is an excellent father and partner. My baby loves him. But when she decides she wants me instead, there is no changing her mind. It’s not as simple as saying, “I need a break,” handing her to her daddy, and running a bath. I try but it never works out. How can I enjoy my time alone knowing that my baby is crying for me in the next room?

 

I know this is temporary. My high need baby will be a big kid in the blink of an eye. There’s no way to the other side except to get through it. She will grow and her needs will change, and independence will be part of that. I won’t be rocking her back to sleep at 3 am forever. I know someday I’ll look back on these tough months and hardly remember how utterly exhausting it was.

But right now, in the thick of it, day-to-day with a very needy, attached baby is tough. If you’ve got a baby like mine, I feel for you and you’re not alone.