IS YOUR BABY PARTICULARLY SENSITIVE/ HIGH NEED?
You can roughly distinguish between 2 sensitive personality types:
– sensitive extroverts (30%)
– sensitive introverts (70%)
It is said that every fifth child is particularly sensitive. The special sensitivity often includes sleeping problems as a result of over- or under-stimulation. The particularly sensitive children can often become "too much to handle" with a need for extra security and shielding. All high need babies are also sensitive to one degree or another. Special sensitivity is not a diagnosis, but a way of being in the world. With the right support, these children often develop into amazing adults.
Source: Elaine N. Aron
Below is an excerpt from family counselor Anja Sigvard's Danish book "Signalstærke Børn". She focuses on describing the extroverted, particularly sensitive children, as it is often these children who demand a lot from their parents. She calls them "strong signalling children".
The child is intense
Children with strong signals can often be spotted right from birth. They cry loudly or often and do not stop easily. They eat violently and quickly, are very specific in relation to who they want to be held by (often it is only the mother). There are many things they don't like, and they complain about everything, so you are never in doubt. The child would rather not miss anything, so it is very difficult for them to go to sleep or to relax. The child is disturbed by the slightest sound or movement, and immediately feels that it must 'be involved'. The intensity can be shown by violent outbursts of emotion, both through joy, sadness and anger. The child has a very extensive emotional register that can swing dramatically from rage to ecstatic joy in an instant and vice versa.
Eats very often
A baby with a strong signal wants to be breastfed often and at times constantly clings to the breast. It is not unusual for the baby to breastfeed every hour or more for the first 3-4 months or more. Strong-signalling children try to find peace and security when breastfeeding, but often they are far too violent and the milk either gets into their throat, the child swallows too much air, or they can't muster up to take hold of the breast at all and scream instead violently in frustration.
Insisting and persistent
The strong-signalling child is very insisting and clear. There is no patience and the child becomes hysterically unhappy in a split second if you do not immediately work out what is wanted. Parents of these children quickly learn that it does not pay to procrastinate. If you do not react immediately, the child will upset itself so much that it cannot be comforted again.
Strong-signalling children won't stop screaming until you find out what it wants, and it doesn't always know what it wants itself, or you can't work it out, so it can be a bit of a chaotic guesswork at times .
A strong-signalling child is almost constantly dissatisfied. There's always something it wants that it can't have. There is always something that bothers them a little, be it clothing brands, sounds, the light, the guests or lying alone.
Wants to be held constantly
The child has a great need for body contact and rocking motion that are reminiscent of their time in the womb. You probably can't put them down for the first several months of their life. Prams and beds can therefore be completely excluded, and there will be no pleasant trips through the city with a sleeping baby in the pram.
They will be close to you all the time. Very close. A sling or carrier becomes almost indispensable.
The child sleeps very lightly and very little
The child only sleeps for a short period at a time and generally sleeps less, or more often but for shorter periods at a time than other children. Even when they sleep, they need close contact and therefore cannot sleep in their own bed or in a pram.
The child often wakes themselves up with their jerking arm and leg movements, which also occur during sleep. Many of the strong-signalling children have to be swaddled to be able to find peace.
Sleeping in new places or sleeping while you are visiting can be an impossibility for the child. Their intensity and persistence can mean that the child does not fall asleep, or wakes up a few minutes after falling asleep. A visit can mean that the child is so overstimulated and overtired afterwards that they cannot fall asleep even after you have returned home. Many parents of strong-signalling children give up visiting others altogether.
No fixed routines
There is nothing to follow when you have a child with trong signals, especially the first year is very changeable and hectic. The child changes their mind often, and there are no firm points of reference. What worked yesterday may not work today. If the child also experiences a lot during the day, it will probably become even more fluctuating and unstable.
The child experiences everything very strongly. All senses are on overtime. And also the emotions. They are therefore easily over-stimulated and become hysterical or very upset. Some strong-signalling babies cannot handle a visit from the nurse without several hours of crying afterwards. They do not like to be held by anyone other than mom and dad, and they wake up at the slightest sound or are disturbed by the slightest movement. The child may be inconsolable for hours after the visit.
Small children have no understanding that you are tired, need food or anything else. The strong-signalling children therefore cannot understand that they are overloading you when they keep crying or complaining. The child just keeps draining your energy. This is because the child itself finds it so difficult to contain their emotions. The child is never at peace and therefore you don't get any either - neither night nor day.
You can also read "12 Features of a High Needs Baby" or "Raising a High Needs Baby" by the American doctor Dr. Sears, who is prominent in the area of high need babies.
If you want to read more about sleep challenges, ways of looking at your baby and the situation, I would also recommend reading Anja Sigvard's articles on strong-signalling children (only in Danish).
The particularly sensitive babies need extra presence, reassurance, breaks and predictability. Many people benefit from a sling cradle and or a weighted sleeping bag, which can provide extra security at bedtime.