Skip to main content

HNS: What's a High Needs Baby?

As I said last week, I'm starting a series on high needs babies. But, what exactly is a high needs baby?

Doing research for this post, one thing is clear -- there is no single definition of a high needs baby or toddler. No one defining quality or checklist. But there certainly are similarities between high needs babies. Parenting expert Dr. Sears lists 12 qualities that are seen in high needs babies. You can read the full descriptions here. In summary a high needs baby or toddler is:

Intense* -- in your face about their every need, driven, loud
Hyperactive* -- constantly in motion, hate containment, fight swaddles
Draining* -- continuous need for attention
Feeds Frequently -- fights schedules and demands feeding
Demanding* -- strong willed, strong sense of urgency in everything they need
Awakens Frequently* -- poor sleepers, low sleep needs
Unsatisfied* -- hard to make content
Unpredictable* -- the same techniques for sleeping, soothing hardly work twice
Super Sensitive -- very aware of environment, easily overstimulated
Cant be put down -- extremely sensitive to touch, often not "cuddly"
Not a self-soother* -- need help to sleep or relax
Separation Sensitive* -- want to be with mother, frightened or anxious to be alone

Other traits additional experts include:

Difficult to soothe*
Excessive crying
Generally uncomfortable

This list is not exhaustive. That is what is so frustrating. A child may fit only one or two of these things but still be very high needs. Or a child may fit all of these. The stars are the traits that I see in Henry today, but at some point I think he has exhibited every one and there are others I could add to this list.

What I think is most important for everyone -- parents and others alike -- to understand is high needs is a real thing. You're not imagining it, the parents are not imagining it, and there really are babies like this. Also, it's not something that has a quick fix. High needs requires changing your expectations for your child. Adapting your skill set and knowing that this isn't just going to go away.

There is no magical 3,6,12,18 month mark where your child is just going to wake up and be different. And, honestly, that has been the hardest lesson for me to learn.

Next week's topic: High Needs Babies and Toddlers: The Good

Read More Resources and References:

Dr. Sears
Fussy Baby Site
Babies in Mind
Growing Slower

Are there traits that you would add to this list? Other defining qualities of high needs babies or toddlers?

Pin It


Lindsay said…
I'm so eager for this series! I love everything you've said here. Ethan's always been a magnificent eater and pretty sweet about snuggling with others, so people have been quick to say "he's not high needs, you're crazy." Meanwhile, he pretty much never slept and he still never sleeps. 9 hours a night? One wake-up? He's good! 20 minute nap for the entire day? That's a great day for us! He just doesn't require sleep and never has. And like your list said, he needs such help being soothed enough to fall asleep. It's been exhausting.
Anonymous said…
Eek, I'm worried about this next baby now! :P So Nicole, would you say this is like a personality category?? Like how we'd say someone is Type A personality? Jessie :)
I cannot imagine, even Hen sleeps more than that. But you're not alone! And Ethan's just too busy being awesome to sleep. :) ::big hugs::
Don't worry, your baby is who she is! Just know that it's possible that she may not be laid back. High needs is kinda like a personality trait, however it's not quite. Many children will become less needy as they get older and become more like their non-high needs peers, unlike a type A who tends to stay that way their whole life.
Yeah I gotta say my heart is racing a bit with #2 due in 5 weeks and my first who was a completely NOT high-needs baby!
Laura Funk said…
Wow! I didnt realize that my sweet baby boy pretty much fits your list perfectly.
Unknown said…
My daughter is definitely high-needs! I have been feeling stressed about this for months now, and this post just helps validate that it's who she is...right now, at least. Dreams of an easy baby can probably safely be set aside ;)
Jelli said…
Thanks for sharing about this. I never really knew what characterized a high needs baby from a generally fussy infant. Helpful to know!
The Pajama Mama said…
Sorry I'm just getting around to reading this. As I read through this list, I couldn't help but notice how much crossover there is between "high needs" traits and some typical characteristics of gifted children. It makes me wonder if there is a higher percentage of gifted children among the high needs population or even if being a high needs baby indicates future giftedness.
Amber Riley said…
Thanks for sharing this!
My 12 month old son is high needs. It's so exhausting! Especially when there are zero friends or family around to help out for a couple hours! (We are military, living in Germany for the moment.) He sleeps 3-4 hours at a time. That's it. Once and awhile we will get a 5 hour stretch. Then he's up for a couple hours and ready to play, play, play. He will sleep "for the night" for about 10 hours, but that includes his awake times. He takes 2 or 3 two hour naps during the day, which of course I sleep through instead of getting anything done. We're trying to cut out the late afternoon nap now. Last night it helped, tonight... not so much.

I'm so incredibly worried about what will happen when his brother is born in another 20 weeks! He needs attention ALL the time!

Popular Posts

The Ultimate Montessori Toy List -- Birth to Five -- UPDATED 2019

When you are interested in Montessori, it can be difficult to know exactly what types of products you should get for your home. Or which types of "Montessori" materials are really worth the price. There are no rules about types of products can use the name Montessori which can add to the confusion. Not to mention, every toy manufacturer slaps the word "educational" on the package for good measure!

2019 UPDATE: This post has been updated to include a variety of brands and new product finds! Just a reminder that no one child will be interested in all of this or needs all of this. These toys are just here to spark ideas and give you a feeling for some Montessori-friendly options available! 

So, with this post, I'm going to try to help with this confusion! Here's a list of Montessori-friendly toys and materials for babies, toddlers and preschoolers. 

First, let's clarify that there is no such thing as a "Montessori toy." Montessori never created to…

Which Open-Ended Toys are "Worth it?"

As a Montessori parent, I try to provide a mix of materials in our home to engage my kids! That work that will spark joy, concentration, and repetition. It's not always an easy task, as Maria Montessori said, "Life is mysterious...only the choice of life can choose the work that the child truly needs. Therefore, the teacher respects this mysterious process and knows to wait with faith." So, there does sometimes feel like there is a bit of trial and error when it comes to choosing materials that your children need. 

For us, the right balance is easier to find when I spend time deeply observing my children. Watching their interests, sitting on my hands if I have to, letting them struggle a little with things, and letting them get bored. And what I have personally found is that here at home, a combination of open ended materials and more structured work have been the right balance. Open ended toys wouldn't necessarily be found in a Montessori classroom, but they are perf…

A Montessori Approach to Purging Your Toys

Becoming a Montessori family has been life changing in so many ways, most obviously with the amount and type of materials we use in our home. Once you see why having so many toys is a problem, or when you make the decision to move towards Montessori, it can be completely overwhelming. But, taking a Montessori approach to purging your toys is possible! And, it doesn't exactly mean that you have to throw away everything you have and start over with only expensive wooden toys. It will mean taking a hard look at what you have and whether it really fits with Montessori.

One note, however, Montessori is at its core about following your child's own path and respecting your child as a whole person. So, if your child has a toy, lovey, book, or whatever that your child super loves or is super attached to, but it doesn't fit Montessori ideals, don't take it away. Follow your child, that is more Montessori than whether or not you own some specific consumer product. 
How to Purge You…