10 Characteristics Of High Need Babies And Ways To Handle It

Characteristics Of High Need Babies And Ways To Handle It

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The personalities of babies vary, just like those of adults. Some babies tend to stay calm once their needs are met, but a few infants may continue to remain restless and dissatisfied. The persistent display of restlessness and fussiness, even after fulfilling the baby’s needs, is an indicator of a high need behavior.

High need or high needs babies are difficult to satisfy and make happy. They are also difficult to calm down except by a few specific caregivers. A high need baby might also become more readily irritable when their demands are not promptly met.

Read on to know more about high need babies, the effects of the behavior on babies, and ways to deal with high need babies.

Signs And Characteristics Of High Need Babies

The signs of high need babies may vary. The following are some of the common habits and characteristics of high need babies.

  1. Intense: High need babies act intensely for every feeling and activity, including crying, protesting, and feeding. These babies may come across as overly motivated and driven to achieve their demands than their peers.
  1. Hyperactive: These are often hypertonic babies, meaning that their body muscles are usually tensed and ready to react quickly to any action. Such babies may stiffen and arch their back when a new person tries to hold them.
  1. Draining: Fulfilling the baby’s unending needs drains out the energy from caregivers. Parents with high needs baby may feel more exhausted than those with babies with normal needs.
  1. Frequent feeding: A high needs baby may demand feeds for comfort, even when they are not hungry or have been fed recently.
  1. Demanding: The only way the baby asks for things is through demands. For instance, if a high need baby wants to be held by a parent, they may not merely request and instead throw a tantrum until the demand is fulfilled.
  1. Awakens quickly: High needs baby need more of everything except sleep. They get energized quickly from naps, and may sleep for fewer hours at night than other babies.
  1. Dissatisfied: This is the part of the high needs baby’s personality. The caregiver fulfills the need, but the baby is still not satisfied and wants the parents to address the demand continuously.
  1. Separation sensitive: Most babies develop separation anxiety between the ages of eight and 12 months (1). However, high need babies tend to be more sensitive to separation and develop anxiety easily when in the company of strangers. The baby may also take more time than usual to accept a new face as a caregiver.
  1. Can’t put the baby away: Your arms are where a high need baby would like to stay all the time. Any attempts to place the baby elsewhere may result in hysterical crying. A high need baby may also demand to be held and cuddled each time they feel scared or are in discomfort.
  1. Unpredictable: What works for a high need baby today may not work tomorrow; unpredictability becomes the norm. The baby may constantly change their desire and comforting actions, such as cradling, lullabies, or pacifiers. 

Difference Between A Colicky Baby And A High Needs Baby

Here are a few notable attributes of colicky babies that differentiate them from high need babies.

  • A colicky baby cries with intensity, but the reason behind their cry is often gas or digestive discomfort (2).
  • A baby with colic is likely to appear in pain during a colic episode. They will arch their back or kick legs in an attempt to release the digestive gases.
  • Unlike high need babies, colicky babies observe a routine and have predictable behavioral attributes. They also do not seem hyperactive and sleep adequately.
  • Colicky babies are not demanding like high needs babies. Once the underlying problem is addressed, a colicky baby calms down.
  • Colic tends to be most common during the first six weeks of life and usually goes away by the age of four months (3). A high needs baby is likely to display fussiness and crying even into toddlerhood. 

Why Are Some Babies Needier Than Others?

It is not fully known why some babies tend to have high needs. Babies can have varying personalities and different reactions to the same environment or situation (4). A baby may have a tolerant reaction to a situation, such as a wet diaper, while another baby may display intense crying to attract the parents’ attention and get the issue resolved quickly.

It is likely that some babies have high needs due to their specific personality, which might be affected by a combination of genetic and environmental factors (5). However, it is not entirely known if it is a result of nature, nurture, or both, thus parents should neither blame themselves nor the baby for the high needs behavior.

Effects Of Being A High Needs Baby

The effects of a high need personality could vary and may not last forever. Some studies note that a few adulthood behavioral attributes, such as conscientiousness and impulsiveness, may originate in childhood (6). However, infancy is too early a stage to determine a person’s ultimate personality. Also, childhood personality attributes need not be binding since a child’s behavior can significantly change even through the end of the teenage years.

Therefore, the long-term effects of a high need personality on the baby are not fully understood. If you have any concerns related to your baby’s high need behavior, speak to a pediatrician. 

Ways To Deal With Your High Needs Baby

Parents may explore tactics that work the best in calming the intense high need behavior of their baby. The following are a few suggestions.

  1. Do not immediately address the baby’s demands. A baby may eventually learn that vehement demands will not be entertained. Thus, wait and observe if the baby cools down and stops the behavior.
  1. Remain calm and patient. Yelling at the baby or displaying aggressive gestures might make matters worse and exacerbate the high need behavior.
  1. Address all the essential demands of the baby, such as timely feeding and changing the diapers. As a parent, you are quite likely to sense which demand is natural and which ones are motivated by high needs.
  1. Observe the baby when they display a high need behavior. You may even maintain a notebook to take notes. It will help you identify triggers and signs that are unique to your high need baby.
  1. Make a note of the games, activities, or toys that seem to calm your baby down. You may offer a pacifier to the baby, which is known to calm fussy babies (7).
  1. Distract the baby each time they display high need behavior. Engaging the baby in a conversation, showing them something interesting, or playing games that intrigue babies, such as peek-a-boo, could trick the baby into calming down.
  1. You may try massaging the baby periodically since it is known to relax babies (8). It may eventually help curtail hyperactivity and help the baby sleep better.
  1. Take the help of your partner and family members to manage the baby’s behavior. You may attain success more easily if multiple caregivers adopt the same strategy to deal with a high need baby.
  1. Take the help of a support group of parents encountering similar situations. You may also explore playgroups for babies with high needs.
  1. If nothing works, hand your baby to a trusted caregiver, and take a break. It would be a change for you and the baby. A change in caregiver may also break the cycle of high need behavior of the baby.

Once you identify the cause and cure of your baby’s high need behavior, follow it diligently.  Take the help of a pediatrician or a pediatric behavioral therapist if required.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Will a high need baby develop anxiety later in life?

There is no precise way to tell if a high needs baby will develop anxiety during adulthood. The onset of anxiety is influenced by multiple factors, including biological and environmental factors, which may manifest later in life (9). Therefore, infancy could be too early to accurately tell if the baby will develop anxiety later in life.

2. Is a high need baby’s intelligence affected by their behavior?

There no evidence that a high need behaviour could enhance or diminish the baby’s intelligence.

3. Will a high needs baby develop ADHD?

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder or ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder. There is no single symptom and diagnostic procedure for the condition (10).  A precise diagnosis of ADHD is only possible after the age of four years (11). Infancy could be too early to determine if the baby would develop ADHD later in life.

A high needs baby may require additional support than a regular baby, and it can exhaust parents or caregivers. Constant observation and management of triggers could eventually help subdue the high needs behavior. Remember, a high need behavior is neither the parents’ nor the baby’s mistake. It is often part of the usual development of some babies. As your baby grows, their behavior is likely to become more refined, predictable, and manageable. Parents might often feel a growing sense of hopelessness and dejection following baby’s behavior but it pays to keep in mind that this is most likely a passing phase for the baby. If you have any concerns about your high need baby, do not hesitate to take a pediatrician’s opinion. 


MomJunction's articles are written after analyzing the research works of expert authors and institutions. Our references consist of resources established by authorities in their respective fields. You can learn more about the authenticity of the information we present in our editorial policy.
1. Emotional and Social Development: 8 to 12 Months; American Academy of Pediatrics
2. Gastrointestinal Problems; Stanford Children’s Health
3. Colic; John Hopkins Medicine
4. Understanding and Adapting to Individual Temperaments; U.S. Department of Health & Human Services
5. Is temperament determined by genetics?; U.S. National Library of Medicine
6. Sarah E. Hampson, Mechanisms by Which Childhood Personality Traits Influence Adult Well-being; NCBI
7. Colic Relief Tips for Parents; American Academy of Pediatrics
8. Fussy Babies; C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital
9. Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) Symptoms & Causes; Boston Children’s Hospital
10. What is ADHD?; CDC
11. ADHD Treatment Recommendations; CDC