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November 13, 2018

It's true some babies are easier than others, writes Sharlene Poole, but there's plenty you can do as a parent to manage a sensitive or high-spirited baby

Many times I get asked, “Why is my baby not ‘easy’ like other babies in my coffee group?” Or a parent will say, “My first baby was easy but this one is tricky!”

Some babies are easier than others – it is true. Some babies are born more sensitive than others, some have to face challenging health issues and others are born very aware, restless and struggle to adapt to their new world with ease.The gamut runs to quite the opposite with a baby who is born very sleepy, able to settle and sleep well and has what I would describe as a quiet and passive temperament. These children are often labelled ‘angel babies’. Parents often ask what contributes to babies being easier than others. Is it their personality alone or is it a combination of parenting, personality and their health and well-being?  

Understanding your baby’s personality and temperament is something that is a huge part of my role when advising parents. I have become what I would classify as a ‘spirited-baby advisor’ because nine times out of ten when I ask questions, assess what is going on within the daily patterns, and learn more about the individual family, that’s the finding. The baby is what I would call ‘spirited and sensitive’ (often along with one or both of the parents) and appears to be harder to manage than other babies when comparing with their family, friends or coffee group members.  

Those parents who do reach out for help have quite often been ‘blaming’ themselves or their babies; blaming themselves for not knowing what to do or labelling their baby as being tricky and hard. These parents sometimes reach out for help through several avenues before finding the best way to help with their baby’s fussiness.  Once medical avenues or solutions have been tried, the solution often arrives in a better understanding of the baby’s personal needs.

Over my time advising parents, I have compiled a list of questions that help me to eliminate common causes for unsettledness, in order to see what is really going on. This in turn, helps parents to reach a new perspective. 

  • Did you have the ‘honeymoon’ period for the first 2-3 weeks with your baby? If not, that is one of the first signs that help me start understanding their character
  • Is the baby sensitive or attracted to light, sound and touch?  This tells me that their sleeping and social environment needs to be considered
  • Does your baby startle a lot, at all times and not just when they are tired?  
  • How was the pregnancy and birth? A challenging start to life can have an impact on how you begin motherhood
  • What support does the family have?
  • What weekly weight has the baby gained since arriving home? Some babies are hungry and a lower or average weight gain might not suit them individually
  • Are there any breastfeeding or bottle feeding issues?  
  • Once asleep, how long does the baby sleep for and do they wake happy or sad?
  • Does mum feel happy in herself and on a daily basis when parenting?

Once I have asked questions from my list, we look at what will help their baby. Do they need a structured routine? Do they need to be winded more often? What strategies will enable the parent to feel more supported? Sensitive babies often do not cope well with things like wind pain, too much handling/touch or too much stimulation. Something that I often recognise or talk about is support and confidence in parenting.  Baby’s senses are so strong. They pick up on everything: surroundings, emotions, smells and touch.  That is why some babies struggle more than others – babies that I believe have heightened senses.

It is hard for some new parents to be confident. We can be confident people, particularly in our chosen profession, but when you add worry, tiredness and a new, immense love alongside a sensitive baby, it can test your confidence in what you are doing as a parent. If you are struggling to settle or calm your own baby and you start comparing your baby to others or take on too much conflicting advice, that anxiety is naturally conveyed to your child. Confidence comes with practice and learning, which is why your own background plays a role in helping you to start parenting.

Our personality can play a huge role as well. A parent who is used to facing a problem at work, usually with the approach of having a ‘start, middle and an end’ to the task, is thrown when they strike a problem with their baby. Babies are progressive beings and are constantly changing. Just when you cope with one development they begin another, which brings along with it new and fresh challenges.

Gone are the days when it was acceptable to say, “It’s fine, they will grow out of it,” or, “It is normal,” to a new parent who is facing a challenge. There is so much information and so many avenues of assistance, that every parent and every baby has the opportunity to be settled.  Once you have talked through your concerns or questions with your midwife, Plunket nurse and GP, you have the option to contact private consultants, someone who has time to observe and offer advice on an individual level in the comfort of  your own home, someone who has experience with 24-hour routines.

Your baby may not be as easy as those in your coffee group or friends and families’ babies, but if they make you happy and you are coping okay from week to week, you may not need professional help but just verbal and emotional support from your village.

Sometimes it’s enough to communicate and recognise that your baby can be more challenging than others, that they have their own personality, and while tricky at times, you love being their parent and they still bring you so much joy.

Personality traits 

  • Here's how I group the different personality types: 
  • The strong but quiet, visual and inquisitive baby 
  • The strong but active, vocal and visual inquisitive baby 
  • The quiet and passive baby 
  • The happy-go-lucky baby

My own personal way of thinking about baby personalities is that I see some babies are very dominant in a singular 'trait', while other babies are a mix of them all. 

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