Each baby is unique and it’s clear that they come into the world already equipped with different temperaments. As far back as 1959, it was suggested by researchers that about half of all infants are ‘easy’ (adaptable, happy, easy to care for) and a quarter are easy in routine situations, but have trouble with changes; the other quarter are straight-out difficult. They have come to be called ‘high-need babies’ — they can be loud, cranky, overly sensitive to change, with unsettled eating and sleeping habits, and their behaviour can drive you up the wall! There might be a reason why a baby is unsettled — an allergy to cow’s milk, say — so don’t be too quick to label them as difficult. On the other hand, when all else has been tried, it can be a relief to know that — well, this is just one of those kids.

You and your baby make a unique combination. Low-need baby + high-need mum = gains confidence as baby proves easy to care for. High-need baby + low-need mum = baby is a challenge but mother can handle it. High-need baby + high-need mum = baby overwhelms mother’s ability to cope. (Adapted from The Fussy Baby, © William Sears MD 1990, published by Collins Dove; used with permission.)

While the above is very simplified, it is an easy way to see at a glance what you are up against and whether it is you or the baby, or both, who needs extra help. Being high need or low need is, of course, subject to change and that’s the beauty of it. When a high-need baby tests your strength of character and capacity to endure, the only solution is to become stronger. This isn’t done by gritting your teeth, but by calling in all available resources from yourself, your partner, family, friends and community-support systems.

Patrick, 27 ‘Our baby was diagnosed as having colic, which just gave it a name — no solution! The impression our doctor gave was that we just had to put up with it. We hated hearing our baby cry in so much pain, and thinking that there might be months of this distress. We found a paediatrician who gave us good, helpful, practical advice. We learned not to give up too easily.’

Kerry, 30, was depressed about how demanding her baby was, until her mother put it in perspective. ‘My mother told me: “They’re a big job, young babies. Of course you get tired. They’re hard work but the time goes so fast. It’s because they’re intelligent that they are so alert and switched on all the time.’”

Some of the useful community resources you could consider contacting include health visitors, doctor or paediatrician, breastfeeding counsellors, child-health clinics, pregnancy support services and social workers.

Reducing the risk of sudden infant death syndrome Sudden infant death syndrome — cot death — affects a very small number of babies, but is so tragic that every parent these days is aware of it and keen to reduce the risks. While no single cause of cot death has been found, the following steps are known to reduce the risk and are, therefore, well worth following:

– Always position babies to sleep on their backs or side, not on their tummy. In some studies, this has been found to significantly reduce cot-death rates.-

– Breastfeed, if at all possible. During the first few months especially, this is thought to give them antibodies to possible viruses which are believed to contribute to cot death. Some experts believe that breastfed babies are more SIDS resistant.

– Quit smoking and don’t let others smoke around your baby. Being iii a house with smokers is a known risk factor. (It also contributes to asthma in children, and babies born to mothers who smoke are smaller at birth and have higher rates of birth problems.) Preferably, both partners should stop smoking when you decide you want to become pregnant or when you find out that you are pregnant.

– Don’t overwarm babies — either with clothing or by overheating their room, which needs to have fresh air circulating. A guide to what a baby should wear in bed is what you would wear, plus one more layer. For example, if you wear flannel pyjamas, babies wear their pyjamas with a woollen singlet underneath.

Research into contributing factors is going on all the time, so keep in touch by talking to your child-health sister or doctor, and watch the newspapers. (Source: SIDS Research Foundation, risk-reduction campaign, The Age, July 1992.)