Could You Have a High Need Baby?

Pop Quiz

Do any of the following sound familiar?

  • Your baby would rather observe the world around her from the vantage point of your arms (While in a sling. Bouncing. And nursing.).
  • When he’s hungry, wet, irritated, overwhelmed, or bored, he isn’t shy about letting you know, long and loud.
  • Sleeping through the night is a term you think you’ve heard before, but certainly haven’t experienced anytime recently.
  • His nicknames all include the words fuss, cranky, or grumpy in some way, shape or form.
  • At any given playgroup, your child will be the one clinging desperately to your leg and/or verbally or non-verbally insisting on going home.
  • The food she loved yesterday makes her gag oh-so-cutely today. Oh, and tomorrow she can’t get enough of it.
  • You don’t understand the phrase “Enjoy the newborn stage, it’s passes so quickly”. To you that’s like saying “Enjoy having your appendix removed, the recovery period passes so quickly”.
  • The soothing techniques you’ve tried include but are not limited to bouncing like a maniac on an exercise ball, swinging the car seat to a height just short of dangerous, and frantically hissing in your baby’s ear.

If you can relate to any of the above, congratulations! You probably have a high need baby!

Sammy with big sister, 4 months old (It's not what it looks like)

The High Need Baby

Let me explain briefly about my own experience of having a high need baby.

Sammy was born in late 2006, our second child, and what we hoped would be our ‘easy’ baby. Our daughter had been a bit colicky (I know, this is like saying your house burned down ‘a bit’). She had lots of contented moments, but these were definitely coupled with at least an equal number of fussy ones.

If a person could avoid having a colicky baby by sheer determination (which, in case you’re wondering, you can’t), Sammy wouldn’t have had it.

I was terrified to have another fussy baby, and was pretty sure our second would be OK since:

  •  We were more relaxed this time around,
  •   I had read every baby sleep book I could find, and
  • The odds were in our favour (only 1 in 5 babies are colicky…what are the chances of having 2?)

Well, as you can probably guess by now, Sammy was colicky. From the moment he was born he was screaming or crying almost constantly (I know you’re probably thinking I’m exaggerating, but I assure you I’m not. When Sam was exactly 4 weeks old he had about 10 minutes where he was lying awake on the bed NOT crying. I told my husband to grab the camera and take a picture to mark this milestone).

We waited desperately for the 3 month mark to arrive which (we had heard) would bring a sudden and mysterious end to the crying and fussiness.

We waited. And waited. And waited.

And guess what?

It never came!

Searching for help

When Sammy was around 4 months old, I vividly remember looking around online and coming across an article on high need babies.

I couldn’t believe there was a name for how my baby was. I knew older babies couldn’t have colic, so I didn’t understand why Sammy was still so high-maintenance. I didn’t know if there was something medically wrong with him, if I was doing something wrong, or if this was just the way he was.

But learning that others had had babies with exactly the same characteristics as mine was surprisingly…comforting.

At the same time, I felt discouraged and overwhelmed by the realization that Sammy may not grow out of this anytime soon. There was definitely a grieving process that took place over his first year while I came to terms with the fact that his fussiness was, at least in part, early evidence of his temperament.

He needed more stimulation, more entertaining, more holding, more soothing, more flexibility, and more patience than many other babies.

It quickly became evident that he would have a larger-than-life personality: When he smiled — which was surprisingly often — you could see every single one of his teeth. It took very little to make him laugh (and not one of those wimpy giggles either – a full on belly laugh), and he had a way of charming those around him I had rarely seen in any other kid.

See every tooth?

Sam is now 5 years old and started Kindergarten this year. Like many other formerly high-need babies, he is well behaved, makes friends easily, and gives his teachers no problems. At home, he feels very free to express himself at will.

When he was a baby we considered him high needs. Now we call him spirited.

But really, he’s just Sammy, and we wouldn’t change a thing about him.


About the Author:

Holly Klaassen is the editor of The Fussy Baby Site, a resource site for parents of fussy, colicky or high need babies. She has recently launched The Colic Workbook, a set of 7 printable worksheets to help parents figure out what could be causing their baby’s fussiness.


  1. says

    This is a great article. My daughter was a “High Need Baby.” I recently discovered the book “The Highly Sensitive Person” by Elaine Aron and it really opened my eyes. I am not sure if all high need babies are highly sensitive people, but I would recommend this book. It helps by offering information and suggestions on handling children and adults who are easily overstimulated.

  2. says

    I like how at the end of the article you wrote “Now we call him spirited”. All my children have stages where I need to give them more attention than usual. Each child is so different and like you, we just have to accept them as they are and always look for the good.

  3. says

    My first high needs baby is now a charmingly delightful 20 year old. He brings laughter to any room, and is such a steadily sunny person that it is hard to believe he was so challenging his first year. (And his second. And his third. And his fourth.) :)

    My second high needs baby is now a delightful 13 year old who still has challenging moments but who, I enjoy exceedingly. Those first years seem to last a long time when you’re in the midst of them, but really they are such a tiny bit of parenting these precious kids.
    Mary, momma to 10

  4. says

    My question is my daughter has some of the characters of a high needs baby. But how do I know if it’s high needs or just teething? And if she is high needs what are things we need to do with her? She seems to be fine when we are out running around. And she was a very content little girl, till up to the last few weeks was when it just started to get bad. That’s when she has had her teeth come thru also. I just would really like some advice on what I could do or need to do. It’s been starting to really stress me out. Thank you very much for your time.

  5. rebecca says

    thank you so much for this! My 6 month old boy is exactly like you describe! how was laughing hysterically at your soothing techniques comment in the pop quiz, because that is pretty much my life. It is reassuring to know there are other people out there dealing with the same thing, and good to know that he will get happier. Thanks.

  6. Christina says

    Thanks for this, everyone kept telling me that it would be easier by: 8weeks, 12, weeks, etc… Now I’ve stopped listening to them. You know what makes it easier? Not watching the calendar and dealing with the challenges as they are presented to us.


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