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4 Expert Ways to Ease a Fussy Baby

Hayden was our fourth child, and our first girl. By the time she was 48 hours old, we knew there was something different about her, and it had nothing to do with the pink sleepers she wore. Her older brothers -- Jim, Bob, and Peter -- had all been easygoing babies. They breastfed every three hours or so, slept in their cribs at night, and watched contentedly from a baby seat while my wife, Martha, made dinner. But Hayden had other plans.

As a newborn, Hayden craved body contact; we dubbed her the "Velcro baby." If she wasn't in her mom's arms, she wasn't happy -- and Hayden never suffered in silence. She cried with a ferociousness that made it impossible to ignore her. Martha and I quickly learned that the only way to earn a little respite was to respond to her needs. As long as she was in our arms, she was happy. In fact, she was delightful -- curious, alert, active, and very responsive to attention. Within a few weeks, we realized Hayden simply needed her own style of parenting, and it required more holding, touching, soothing, more ... well, everything.

But there were times when Martha's arms and patience simply gave out. Exhausted from taking care of a demanding baby, plus three other children, she found it difficult to be the calming presence Hayden needed. We often felt s-t-r-e-t-c-h-e-d and began to wonder what we were doing wrong. Despite our years of experience with the older boys -- not to mention our professional training as a nurse and pediatrician -- our confidence was shaken. Why did this baby seem to be controlling us, instead of us controlling her? Why was she so fussy?

We didn't find the answers to these questions in books; Hayden was not a by-the-book baby. To make it work as her parents, we had to let go of the "shoulds" and instead learn from Hayden. To maintain her happy outlook on life, she needed frequent feedings at the breast, a warm body next to her as she slept, and her parents' arms to hold her.

As we made the mind-shift from worrying that our baby was manipulating us to believing that we were giving her what she needed, we found it easier to care for her. This is because babies communicate rather than manipulate. The more we blocked out negative advice ("you'll spoil her") and our own negative thoughts ("she won't let me do anything"), the more we enjoyed her for who she was: an intense, sensitive child. Infants with personalities like Hayden's are often described as difficult or demanding, but thinking of your baby as unusually cranky or unhappy doesn't make it any easier to care for that baby 24/7. That's why Martha and I came up with the term "high-need baby."

Time and again, we have found that when a mother changes her mindset from "fussy baby" to "high-need baby," she feels better about being a parent. Being "high-need" makes her baby sound special, gifted even. In fact, parents who have survived and thrived with a high-need baby often tell me that their child grew into a particularly creative, communicative, and sensitive person. Finally, the term suggests what moms and dads should do: Give the baby more of what she needs.