Mothering your high-need baby: 5 coping strategies

My baby nurses several times a night and it takes at least an hour to get him into a deep sleep so I can lay him down without waking him. I have tried everything and nothing helps. He needs constant holding, refuses to nurse lying down and will not sleep in his bed. He is gaining weight normally and has no other problems. Do you have any ideas?


Debbi Donovan

Debbi Donovan is a Board Certified Lactation Consultant, as well as a retired La Leche League Leader. For more than a decade, Debbi... Read more

High need babies can be very challenging!

Remember that all babies are born with different personalities: Some coo and smile the whole day, not causing much disruption at all to a family, and others who are very sensitive can never seem to get enough love and attention. It can be very trying to be the mother of a high-need baby/child, but it can also (over time) be very rewarding. Mothering a high-need baby really puts you in tune with his needs. He begins to quickly learn by his mom's quick and loving response that his needs will be well met.

It is not unusual for a sensitive baby -- or any baby for that matter -- to want to spend much of the day and night in his mom's arms. As a new mother, it can be difficult to keep giving of yourself 24 hours a day.

5 Ways to Cope with a High-Need Baby

1. Settle in, put up your feet and get comfortable. I would recommend spending lots of time during the day holding your baby. This can be very calming to a sensitive baby. If you're not yet comfortable nursing lying down it is important for you to get some rest. Find the most comfortable chair in the house and set it up in the location of your choice. (Probably best in the center of family activity, since nobody wants to be alone all the time to nurse!)

2. Create a "nursing nest." Have a low footstool handy, a table to keep a drink and some snacks on, maybe the remote control, the phone -- whatever you need to really settle in and get comfortable. When you nurse your baby to sleep, you can just lie back and rest, tucking in your little guy with a lightweight blanket (wrapped around both you and baby and tucked under your hips and thighs) so you can keep your baby secure if you drift off.

Next: More coping strategies that really work

3. Rest. It sounds like you really need to rest, so remember that all the housework will wait. Maybe, in the meantime, your family and friends can help her around the house, so you can put your energy into your baby. Or you could wait until your little guy has come off your breast, relaxed and satisfied, and watch until he seems limp. At that point you can carry him into your bed, lying down with him in your arms, and rest together.

4. Try a sling. I would highly advise every mother of a high-need baby to purchase a baby sling. Besides the obvious benefit to the baby of lots of close contact with his mother, and other family members, this will free up the mother's hands to go about her regular routine. Fussy babies often love to nurse while in the sling. When the baby does fall asleep in the sling the mom can continue to carry him, or gently lie him down to nap, by leaning forward over the bed, baby still in sling, sliding it over her shoulder. The sling can serve as a lightweight blanket for baby. Don't be discouraged if your little one doesn't like the sling right away. Use it for short periods of time every day, until he is comfortable in it. There are lots of carrying positions that can be tried.

5. Allow your baby to finish the first breast. Let your baby to come off one breast on his own, before switching sides. Sometimes moms of babies who like to "marathon nurse" switch back and forth several times during a feed. When this is done, a baby may not be receiving much of her rich hindmilk, which will signal the end of the feed, and help him to remain satisfied for a longer period of time. An overabundance of foremilk can cause gassiness and colicky symptoms in some babies.

An excellent book to read is "Keys to Calming the Fussy Baby", by William Sears, MD. I think you will find it filled with helpful tips.

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