A look at my first six months raising a high needs baby
When I had my second child, I was excited to be a mommy to another beautiful little girl. In between my first and second babies, I became a step-mom to another little girl and a boy. I was ready for parenting a fourth – especially with the support of my husband and other kiddos. I’d been around the parenting block, but had never heard the term “high needs baby.”
I expected the usual up-all-night sessions, spit up stains and other unpleasant surprises that come with the newborn territory. I had been through it once before, after all. I was not prepared for the extreme newborn version that I faced in the form of a high needs baby. These little ones exhibit the typical newborn traits on steroid-like levels.
In my case, my daughter was incredibly mommy-centric, completely melting down if I handed her off for ten minutes to take a shower. I spent some time trying to “fix” these perceived problems before I did a little research and decided to change my own thinking instead.
Many message boards and articles about high needs babies say that the hardest months are the first six (this applies to all babies). After that, high needs kids start to feel out a little more independence, if cautiously. Now that my little girl has passed the six month point, I’d say those forums I scoured in the early days were correct. While she is still very mom-centric, she is finding freedom in her own mobility (crawling already – ay yi yi) and seems to forget about me for brief moments in time.
I made it through the first six months and learned a few things about parenting high needs babies in the process. Some of what I learned easily translates to my relationships with all my kids. Here are some tips for that first half of a year, especially in the case of parents of high needs babies:
Think like a high needs baby.
When frustration starts to sink in after many sleepless nights and no breaks because you are the only person or thing your baby will accept, you may wonder why your baby hates you so much. Try to remember that just the opposite is true. You are your baby’s universe – everything that he or she holds dear. Babies do not know how to test their parents or punish them for a perceived injustice. Babies are just trying to adjust to life outside the womb. Some adjust more quickly and easily than others. If your baby needs you a little more than your others did, or keeps you up more at night than your friends’ babies keep them up, it is simply because your baby needs you more. Soak it up. In about 13 years, you will be wishing for that loving, cuddly baby back.
All babies, especially high needs ones, need to be close to a parent to feel safe. I spent the first two months carrying my daughter from room to room and on my hip in public because she refused bouncers, swings or strollers. I had owned a carrier with my oldest daughter, but used it rarely. She liked strollers and other contraptions made especially for babies, so those were what I used. After weeks of my youngest not liking, well… anything… I hesitated to even try a carrier. I decided that the thought of two free hands sounded like a dream come true, so I took the plunge. I started wearing her for several hours each day and she loved it. My husband who had been desperately looking for a way to bond with his little girl adjusted the carrier straps and started wearing her. She loved that too. Instead of wasting energy trying to get her to like all the other mommy substitutions, I poured that effort into one item that worked better for both of us.
For months I did not feel comfortable leaving my baby with babysitters or even family members for long. Experience told me that she would be miserable, and so would they. Feeling anchored to your home though, and blaming those limits on your offspring, is unhealthy for both mom and baby. Find ways to get out together, even if it is just a short stroll around the neighborhood (if you wear your baby, think of it as a way to get some exercise at the same time). Shake off the bad energy that can linger in your home and get a little Vitamin D boost in the process.
Remember it is not your fault.
If your high needs baby is especially clingy, will not go to other people, rejects baby gear like swings, wakes frequently every night just because she needs you, or any other similar characteristics – do not blame yourself. Your baby is simply not old enough to have developed patterns that are directly related to your actions. It is not because you held her too much as a newborn. It is not because you decided to breastfeed. It is not because you never gave breastfeeding a try and your child is mad at you. It is not because you have to go to work during the day. It is not because you dyed your hair green or drank a lot of beer in college. Every baby has his or her own personality – plain and simple. Anyone who tries to tell you differently is going to have a high needs baby the next time around — you just wait and see. Instead of internalizing any perceived “problems” as something that you caused, channel that energy into adjusting to baby’s needs.
Though your nights may seem to stretch on for days, the newborn and baby phases are very brief in the lifetime of your child. Try to put the challenges into perspective – they are going to make you a better parent. Best of all, some of the best things about your own personality will have a chance to shine through in the form of patience, compassion and loving to the limit.
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