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Rethinking Fussy Babies

Hayden was our fourth child, and our first girl. By the time she was 48 hours old, we knew there was something different about this baby, 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 opinions about how mothers should care for babies.

Feeling frazzled
"I can't put her down!" became Martha's constant lament. As a newborn, Hayden craved body contact; she was glued to her mother. 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. Everyone in the house, as well as all of our neighbors, knew when Hayden was unhappy: She cried with a ferociousness that made it impossible to ignore her. The then-popular advice to "let her cry it out" was not an option. Hayden knew what she needed and fortunately (or unfortunately) had the persistence to intensify her cries if we didn't respond.

Martha and I quickly learned that the only way to get a little respite from Hayden's wails was to respond to her needs. As long as Hayden was in our arms (especially her mother's), she was happy. In fact, she was delightful -- curious, alert, active, and very responsive to attention from her parents and big brothers. Within a few weeks we realized that Hayden was simply wired differently and needed a different style of parenting. She needed more holding, more touch, more soothing, more ┬┐well, everything.

But there were times when Martha's arms and her patience simply gave out. Exhausted from taking care of this demanding baby, plus three other children, she found it difficult to be the peaceful, calming presence that Hayden needed. We often felt s-t-r-e-t-c-h-e-d.During those worn-out early months of Hayden's life, Martha and I wondered 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 couldn't we make her be more independent and less needy? Why was she so fussy?

William Sears, M.D., is a Babytalk contributing editor and author of 32 books, including The Baby Book.