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Caring for a Sensitive Baby

It is 4 AM.  I know my husband has to get up for work soon, but I cannot help it.  As I crawl back in bed I begin to cry, and I tell him, “I cannot hold that baby anymore tonight.”  He replies, “Do you want me to rock him?”  The tears are coming down hard now.  “It won’t do any good, but you can if you want.”  In his slow and quiet way I feel Slade get up.  I pick up the monitor and listen, a rustle and then the crying stops.  And that is all I heard.  When Slade comes back to bed he warns me, “Don’t expect to sleep long.  He was tense. I am amazed he is asleep.”  I have no idea what time it is as we drift off to sleep, I have no idea how our conversation drifted off as well.  I do remember saying, “My skin hurts.”

This morning Slade said with a big grin on his face, “So, he slept from five until seven.”  I snapped back, “That’s after being awake from three until five.”  I snap back at Slade a lot these days.  Oh how I want to be more patient.  You would think after five kids I would know how to manage my emotions under pressure.  And I am more patient than when I was at twenty-two.  But I am not perfect.

Sleep is by far the hardest struggle when it comes to caring for a sensitive baby. I used to tell people that I could do anything in the day as long as I got good sleep at night.  Well, I am still that girl…that woman….that mom who needs a fair amount of sleep.  It would be easier if I didn’t, but I do.

Know thyself,
Accept thyself,
Better thyself.

Caring for Sam is a difficult job, I have even called him a difficult baby. If you have or have had a difficult baby-you KNOW it! If you have never experienced a difficult baby you may be offended by my label.  Just know this, Sam is not a bad baby.  He is what he is, and we love him the way he is.  He brings more joy to our lives than he does hardship.  In a very real way I am thankful I have a baby like Sam. I have had two very difficult babies out of the five, and I can honestly say the two of them have made me a better mother all around.  My struggles with Sam are not really about making him act a certain way (although I do try) or be something he is not…my struggles are with stamina, and consistency, and most of all patience.

Below is a list of characteristics of my sensitive boy.  Maybe you can identify.  Here is the reason I need stamina, consistency, and patience…always more patience.

  • The crying. Sam cries a lot.  And the cry is not a whimper or normal cry, it is high pitched and LOUD!  (My older girls call it the Nazgul scream.)  

  • The feeding.  Non- nutritional sucking is very important to a sensitive baby.  This can be very draining for mom, and misunderstood by those who think you are creating this situation by nursing too much.  I disagree that nursing frequently makes sensitive infants worse.  It is hard to satisfy a sensitive baby, but I do not think nursing frequently is to blame for highly demanding infants.  Sam also had what I call the on/off syndrome.  While nursing he was on, off, on, off, on, off.  This makes public nursing a challenge.  Bottle feeding is also frequent, and Sam does not eat much in one sitting.

  • The energy.  His fists are almost always clenched.  He bows his back, and his muscles feel tense like he is on go most of the time. It is difficult to hold him because of this.  Sometimes Sam will be jumping up and down in my lap, bowing his back into a back bend, diving for the floor, and hitting me with his fists, and I think He wants down.  So, I set him on the floor or in his jumper and he screams uncontrollably. So I pick him back up, and we start the process over again.  This goes on for most of his waking hours.  Most of the time I just go through the up and down routine with the hope that he will set alone for a few minutes.  Sometimes he does, but most often he does not.  By the end of the day my skin feels like someone has rubbed me down with coarse sand paper, and my muscles are sore.

  • The sleep.  It seems that for sensitive babies sleep is the most difficult.  Sam does not have the ability to calm himself or comfort himself.  He is very sensitive to noise and light as well.  When he wakes at night he can be almost inconsolable.  Nap times are hit and miss, sometimes he rests well (1-2 hours) and other times he may only sleep 30 minutes at a time.  Elinor, my other sensitive child, did not sleep through the night consistently until she was two years old.

  • The aggression.  Sam loves to growl, babble loudly, laugh loudly, scream and squeal, jump, hit, bang, scratch, pull, crawl everywhere, tear paper, dive, be tossed in the air, rock, on and on he goes.  On the flip side this makes for some fun times.  He also loves people, and can connect easily with others.  But after holding Sam for a while you might feel as if you have just gone 12 rounds with Mike Tyson.  It’s intense.

  • The routine.  My first three babies loved their routine, and thrived on it.  Sam is different.  He eats, poops, sleeps, and plays at different times.  This is hard to manage, but a blessing as well.  He is somewhat adaptable to our schedule, but he gets over stimulated easily with all the activity in and out of the house.  When I first experienced a baby that I could not put on a schedule I thought it was my fault….that I was unorganized and undisciplined.  I have come to realize that I am a responder mother, and the lack of scheduling with Sam is in response to him.  
I saw a blurb on the internet that read Cultures Where Babies Seldom Cry.  I was curious, and I clicked. And I admit I shouldn’t have…it did not help things at all. After reading the article I felt frustrated to no end.  I am NOT African, or whatever other culture where the mothers do everything right.  I am an American…does that make me a bad mother?  They say we are too self identified, and we don’t breastfeed right, or hold our babies right, or (and this one hurts the most) we do not connect deeply with our babies. I admit that I have questioned myself in all of these this the reason Sam is so difficult?  I have even asked my husband if he thinks I am causing this.  In the end I know in my heart that even if it is somewhat true, that Sam is only acting out my bad mothering, well it’s all I got.  I am doing my best.  And each day I get up, and I love him another day. I give myself to him, all my children, my family…my whole self.
Down deep I know that Sam is a healthy and happy baby, full of life and energy and zest. I have done nothing wrong.  I just need to keep plugging away, and hopefully not get lost in my exhaustion.  I want to be in the moment…not wishing the moments away.
As an older mother I live with this knowledge…and I tell myself…Mandy, you are going to miss this.  You’re gonna want this back.  You’re gonna wish these days hadn’t gone by so fast.
These are some good times.  

Notwithstanding she shall be saved in childbearing, if they continue in faith and charity and holiness with sobriety.                                          1 Timothy 2:15


8 thoughts on “Caring for a Sensitive Baby

  1. I remember that before I had my first baby, we knew a couple who had a baby and a toddler. And we heard them arguing (gently) about which of the parents was going to take a nap in the afternoon, because the other one needed to mind the children. And I thought it really immature. Ha! When you are sleep-deprived to the degree you often are, you just cannot make yourself perform at the level you would normally, and it makes it difficult to even think very well, as your brain is in a mode where it is demanding rest.

    And the emotions are hard to control in that case. If you are “in the moment,” living your NOW, this is what you sometimes get. I think it's good to write it down – I wish I had been so eloquent when I was going through those years…I remember reading about a conversation between an older woman and a younger, and the young mother saying that she knew she should enjoy the days more, people had told her these were the years to be cherished. The older woman said, “My dear, these are the years to be endured.” ! So maybe sometimes you can think to yourself, “I am here, now, doing my best for my children, and it's not as good as I wish, but I am enduring by God's grace. This is love.”


  2. Hugs, but no words because you said it all already, even sleep deprived you know the truth in your heart…my “difficult baby” just pounced through the kitchen all 7 years old of her…the baby that screamed no stop for the the first few months is the heart and sunshine of the family…you will get through 😉


  3. Virtual hug for you!
    I also keep reminding myself that I will miss these days. I currently have a 19 month old who wakes several times every night. My 4yo didn't sleep through the night until she was 2, so I'm not looking for this one to start doing it any earlier. But it's so hard. I will keep you in my prayers.


  4. Thank you for the kind words. I have another little whirlwind named Elinor…she was a “difficult” baby as well. And I would say she is the “heart and sunshine” of our family as well. It's good to be reminded.


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