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5 tips for surviving when you have a high needs baby

In Features, Motherhood, Pregnancy + Birth, Stories by Jessica Jane Sammut

How do you survive when you’re a new mama with a high needs baby? Newborn life can be tough at the best of times.

By Fiona Amarasinghe

Ahh, newborn days. They are so hard. Especially when you are a first time mum and reeling from the shock of it all.

With few exceptions, newborns don’t sleep for any length of time, cry an alarming amount, and feed in a cycle that leaves you utterly exhausted. And yet, most new mums will say “Oh, but when she smiles, it’s all worth it” and “It’s so hard, but we feel so blessed. “

What if you don’t feel like this? What if your baby is so incredibly difficult that you just can’t see the upside?

That was my experience. Most of the first year of motherhood was so awful that, for a long time afterwards, I’d burst into tears from the memory. I don’t think I could ever do the newborn thing again without completely breaking myself.

For me, it wasn’t a case of postnatal depression. I had a newborn that really was harder than most. She arrived prematurely, struggled to breastfeed, had severe reflux, a dairy intolerance and sensory issues. Of course, none of that was clear at the time. During those newborn months, I was flying blind.


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What it meant was a 24/7 rotation of almost unceasing hysterics, awful breastfeeding, and endless hours of carrying her. She’d scream like her life was ending for hours at a time, skip entire sleep cycles through the night, and if I put her down for a moment she’d go off like a hand-grenade. This lasted for five months and I had very little day-to-day help.

It felt like there was no upside. There was barely any eye contact, smiles or interaction. It’s hard to feel the ‘joy’ of motherhood when you seem to be incapable of making your child happy, and you are a hair’s breadth away from a breakdown.

It took a while to realise my baby was extremely difficult. After all, every baby is hard work, and a lot of my daughter’s behavior was considered ‘normal’ by the health professionals – they couldn’t see the severity of it, and as a first time mum I didn’t know any different. It was only in the fullness of time that I came to understand things were not as they should be.

The reality is, there are some babies with incredibly high needs, and their mums just about lose their minds wondering why no one’s advice works. I slowly pieced together a picture of my own child by reading other mums’ blogs, and they were a life-line for me. I figured out some things that helped, and over time, my baby got a little better.

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If you think you may be in the same boat, these things may help:

Do whatever you need to get through

Stop worrying about parenting ‘right’ and just focus on survival. Listen to advice, but dismiss what doesn’t work without feeling bad. You don’t have to be the best parent in show. You just have to survive these months.

Get out and about

Being stuck within four walls with a screaming baby is not good for your sanity. Get out to the coffee shop, or the park. Even if your baby cries, at least you’ll have decent coffee in your hand and a view. And as hard as it is, hand the baby over to scream at your partner while you get some sanity saving exercise.

Get help

Do as I say, not as I did…when someone offers help, just say yes. It doesn’t matter what for, just get them to show up and do anything. If family can’t step in, hire a cleaner, get meals delivered… forget about economising for now.

And get help for your baby. If your mummy instinct is telling you there’s something wrong, keep pushing the health professionals until you find one that takes your concerns seriously. You know more than you think.

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Change your point of view

You may feel, as I did, that you have the baby from hell, and they are making your life a misery. This victim mentality doesn’t help. Once I understood that my baby wasn’t doing this to me, that she was suffering and needed my help, I was better able to surrender into caring for her without so much resentment. There is a season for you, and there is a season to be there for your baby. Just go with it for now. It’s not forever.

Heal yourself

While those harsh baby days don’t last forever, their effects linger. Even after the worst has past, don’t kid yourself that it’s all OK now. Get back to exercise, or your hobbies, or meditation, or seek counselling for yourself and your partnership.

And remember, it’s not your fault, Mum, and it will be OK eventually. This too shall pass.

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