Colic is defined as episodic crying, for extended periods of time, without a known cause. In some cases it can be linked to abdominal pain and gas, but most often there is no discernible reason. Colicky babies tend to cry at about the same time every day with the evening being the most usual hours.
Colic typically appears at around 2 to 4 weeks of age, peaks and then fades at around 4 to 5 months. In some rare cases colicky behavior can prolong until about 6 months of age. Parents of babies with colic often report an almost overnight disappearance of the inconsolable crying episodes.
High need babies typically present different behavior from birth. Mothers often speak of how alert their newborn was in the hospital. Most are screaming inconsolably in the nursery while the other babies sleep peacefully and with ease. They often appear tense, with their muscles noticeably tightened. They act as if they have an inability to relax.
High need babies do not grow out of their behavior. While colic will disappear after a few months, high need behavior extends beyond infancy and well into toddlerhood. These children grow from constantly crying babies into extreme tantrum throwing children. They are usually very sensitive and their emotional reactions are often over exaggerated.
One of the most common characteristics of high need behavior is the sleep patterns. Most high need children do not like to sleep. They have an amazing ability to stay awake for extended periods of time even though they might be showing signs of extreme tiredness. They wake often at night, well past the stage where most babies are sleeping 6 to 7 hour stretches. They are usually unable to soothe themselves back to sleep without parental assistance. Day time napping can range from a few 20 minute catnaps to none at all.
The chronic fatigue from lack of sleeping only makes them more cranky and irritable. The old adage “sleep begets sleep” rings true with infants and high need infants are no different. The vicious cycle of not napping makes their night time waking even more frequent.
Does anything help them sleep?
Myself, as well as many other mothers, have found a few methods that are successful. Every method will not work for every child, but it is a good list to start from.
- Baby massage
- Swaddling (beyond the newborn stage)
- Baby wearing
- Bouncing on a yoga ball with baby
- A combination of blackout curtains and white noise
- Loud “shh” sounds directly into the ear
How do I cope?
Any underlying medical conditions should be ruled out if basic comforting measures are not working. Acid reflux is a common infant medical condition often characterized by excessive spitting up. You might also notice loud gulping sounds or loud screaming when placed on their backs.
Diet changes can usually help the problem, but medication is sometimes needed. Reflux can sometimes be the result of a milk allergy or sensitivity. Breastfeeding mothers might try eliminating dairy from their diets to see if it results in a noticeable change. Formula fed babies can be switched to a hypoallergenic formula. You should always consult a medical professional before trying an elimination diet or formula change, however.
If medical causes are ruled out and nothing else is working, coping with the situation is the only other thing you can do. Parenting a high need child can be mentally and physically exhausting. Their parents often walk around in a zombie like state and appear anxious.
It is important to find a few minutes for yourself each day. Whether that’s during one of those brief catnaps or by stepping out of the room during a screaming episode, even a couple of minutes can help you recharge. Just a moment to gather yourself is all you need.
Don’t be afraid to ask others for help. Friends and family are usually more than willing to babysit for a few hours to give parents a much needed break. Even if your baby cries the entire time you are away, you will be able to return to them a little more refreshed.
Sleep should become a priority in your home. The classic “sleep when the baby sleeps” advice is perfect for parents of high need children. This is one of the primary reasons why so many of us co-sleep for an extended period of time. High need children crave almost constant interaction and touch. Co-sleeping allows you to provide that comfort and rest at the same time. If you do choose to co-sleep, however, please research safe methods for doing so.
A personal journal is a great way to release all those pent up feelings of frustration. Writing about your frustrations can significantly lower stress levels and release tension. No one else ever has to read your thoughts, but it is better to not keep them bottled up inside because it makes coping more difficult.
Stop comparing your baby to everyone else’s. It can be hard not to when other babies act so different, but it will only heighten your anxiety. Accepting that your child’s personality is just different helps tremendously with stopping the comparisons. Even I am still guilty of it at times, but I do try my best not to. There is nothing medically wrong with your son or daughter and you are not a bad parent. Your child simply has a more sensitive personality and a stronger need for your attention.
As hard as it may seem, try to think positive thoughts. Embrace your child’s differences and start viewing them as gifts. The clingy child you find so exhausting now can grow to become an empathetic and strong willed leader.
A support system is very important. Whether that be friends and family or an online group, find people that understand and want to help. There are a surprising number of online support groups for parents of high need children. They are full of mothers and fathers who face the same daily struggles that you do.
If you are still having trouble coping with your spirited child part of the problem might be PPD, or postpartum depression. PPD is common among mother’s of high need babies because of their constant demands. Medication can sometimes lower your anxiety level enough that you no longer find it so difficult to handle those daily demands.
Schedule an appointment with your doctor if you have concerns that you might be experiencing PPD. A medical professional will be able to exam you and ask specific questions in order to determine if this might be the problem.