My first babysitter quit on me in three days. The next two candidates each stayed for four hours before they decided that they couldn’t do the job, either. Grandma tried and surrendered, too.
And my hubby? He runs a mile away whenever I beg him to hold our little… terror.
Unlike my easy-going firstborn, my difficult second child is a shock to my family’s predictable, peaceful lives.
Sure, all babies cry – but not the way mine does. When she works herself into a frenzy, her cries – no, screams – are piercing enough to shatter the peace in the neighbourhood.
Every muscle in her body seems to be primed for battle. Her fists are clenched into tight, determined balls, and her veins – green and bulging against her smooth tender skin – take on a Hulk-like appearance.
Sometimes, she calms down when I offer her a pacifier (my breast) or pace up and down the living room, rocking and singing (yes, all three actions at once).
Other times, every effort is wasted and my eardrums bear the brunt of her shrill, panicky meltdowns.
Once, she cried non-stop for four hours, taking breaks only to gasp for air.
The nannies and my mum told me that my crybaby – ironically named Joyous – is quite unlike any other infant. Twelve months on, and with no let up in sight, I have to agree with them.
But, apparently every 15 out of 100 babies have personality traits like hers, notes Dr Chua Mei Chien, senior consultant at the department of neonatology at KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital (KKH).
Intense, demanding, super clingy but otherwise healthy, she is what United States paediatrician and best-selling author Dr William Sears famously dubbed a “high-need baby”.
Did being extra irritable, highly strung and weepy during my pregnancy affect my little one?
Maybe, says Dr Chua. Some research suggests that Baby’s anxious personality might be the mum’s own doing.
Several studies by US-based researcher Elysia Poggi Davis points out that excessive stress during pregnancy releases high levels of stress hormones, which can affect the unborn baby’s delicate developing brain.
This was published in scientific journals including Infancy and the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry.
“This is especially true if mums experience high stress levels during the third trimester. Their newborns tend to startle easily and are highly fearful and anxious,” adds Dr Chua.
But Dr Janice Wong, paediatrician at Thomson Paediatric Centre, says that genes could play a role, too, as personality traits run in the family.
“If a mum is easily stressed, then she might pass that tendency on to her child,” she explains.
In some instances, your baby’s irritability and challenging behaviour might signal underlying medical problems like reflux, a cow’s milk protein allergy or other metabolic conditions, says Dr Chua.
Look out for red flags like a refusal to feed, recurrent vomiting, poor weight gain, delayed milestones or severe, persistent rashes.
Baby’s heightened sensitivity could also point to a sensory problems, or even autism later in childhood, adds Dr Wong. But, these are an exception. Check with a doctor if you are concerned.
It’s not all doom and gloom, though. On the bright side, your little one’s persistence and sensitivity could bode well for her in the future.
“For instance, a baby who cries constantly may grow up to be more persistent and focused on certain tasks compared to her peers. A highly sensitive child could be more aware of her needs and other people’s emotions,” shares Alicia Lim, a senior occupational therapist at National University Hospital Rehabilitation Centre.
For now, don’t question your parenting skills or compare your clingy baby with her peers. Just accept her for who she is and focus on building a loving relationship, say the experts.
“Expecting Baby to fit into a routine at a young age and be highly regulated in her behaviour is unrealistic and can create even more stress for everyone,” says Dr Chua.
“It is more constructive if you get to know her and what she is trying to communicate to you. Then, respond appropriately.”