High Needs Baby or a Fussy Newborn? Here's How to Know

Does your baby seem more high maintenance that others her age? Although the term "high needs baby" isn't a medical diagnosis, find out if she fits the description and how to cope.
PK pix/Shutterstock

We can collectively agree parenting is hard, but when your infant consistently adds a level of difficulty to every task you two do together, it’s normal to start wondering if there's a deeper meaning. Behavioral tendencies like separation anxiety from mom, resistant to take naps, hates car rides, always wants to be held, and can’t sleep independently can make your job extremely difficult and exhausting. These are just a few traits demonstrated by high needs babies.

With the help of Eleonora Kleyman, M.D., a Kaiser Permanente pediatrician in Los Angeles, we are getting to the bottom of what it means to have a high needs, fussy baby and the best ways to resolve these coinciding hardships.

What qualifies a baby as high needs?

“First, it’s important to point out that the term high needs baby isn't a medical diagnosis,” Dr. Kleyman explains. “This is a term that parents often ascribe to their babies based on certain expectations of how a baby is supposed to behave, the way their other children may have behaved, or the way babies of others behave.”

What are the common characteristics of a high needs baby?

Some babies can behave more difficult than others, Dr. Kleyman points out that this could be the result of temperament, environment, and many other factors. Common characteristics of a high needs baby includes constantly crying, needing extra attention; holding or soothing, irregular or unpredictable sleep or feeding patterns, restlessness, easily overstimulated by noise or movement (preventing parents from taking their baby out), and resistant to swaddling.

Is there a difference between high needs and colicky baby?

There are multiple differences between a high needs and colicky baby. According to Dr. Kleyman colicky babies tend to have normal sleep and feeding patterns, they cry for more than three hours a day and more than three days a week for at least three weeks in a row, and on average colic disappears by the age of 6-months while high needs behaviors can last longer.

Does intelligence have anything to do with being a high needs baby?

There is no clear correlation between temperament and intelligence.

What causes a baby to be high maintenance?

“Some babies are just naturally more sensitive. They require additional comforting and attention,” Dr. Kleyman explains. “They can get easily overstimulated by their environment and require holding and soothing for comfort.”

Does a high needs baby mean that a baby will grow up to have anxiety?

Just like intelligence, there is no way to know if a high needs baby will grow up to have anxiety. Dr. Kleyman points out that environment and parenting can highly influence the development of a baby from a fussy baby to calm, happy, thriving child.

How is it best to handle a high needs baby?

To the best of your abilities, it is important to keep calm and ask for help. Despite being overwhelmed its crucial to be patient and positive. “Take good care of yourself, sleep when the baby sleeps, eat well, and try to exercise when you can. You will not spoil the baby by holding and comforting him when he needs you,” says Dr. Kleyman.

How do I help a baby to become less high maintenance?

Not all babies are the same, being flexible, comforting, soothing, and feeding your baby as you see fit is a start in the right direction.

What are solutions to high needs baby problems?

Again, being responsive to your baby’s cues and being flexible with their needs in important. Dr. Kleyman advises, “Be adaptable to the needs of your baby without trying to conform to an unrealistic expectation that may be set by friends or family members. Baby-wearing can provide comfort and bonding while allowing parents to go about their daily activities and even get out for some fresh air.”

If your baby is fussy, one of these 23 tricks can help calm the tears. Try swaddling, rocking, and wearing your baby.


All Topics in Baby Milestones & Behavior


Parents may receive compensation when you click through and purchase from links contained on this website.