Highly Sensitive Refuge
A highly sensitive parent holds their baby’s hand.

Being a New Parent as a Highly Sensitive Person

As a highly sensitive parent, trying to meet the needs of your baby is relatively easy. But attempting to meet the demands of others is another story.

I didn’t realize I was a highly sensitive person (HSP) until my baby turned one. I didn’t consider that my emotions were heightened from not only my elevated hormones, but also from who I am as a person. I wasn’t aware that being an HSP would impact how I reacted to different situations as a parent… because I hadn’t been a parent before and never realized I was a highly sensitive person either.

However, once I discovered that I was, I quickly figured out I would need to make sure I checked myself during certain situations and gave myself grace in others. No one is a perfect parent, but even despite knowing this, it can be a mental challenge to be a highly sensitive parent.

I know that highly sensitive people are more aware of slight changes and subtleties than people who are not highly sensitive… and having a child is definitely more than a slight change. I also know that we HSPs tend to take criticism harder than others. As a result, internalizing comments and situations can make me lose sleep at night and cause me to be so anxious that I get an upset stomach.

When I realized that I was highly sensitive, however, I started to think of my highly sensitive characteristics in a new light. When my little one would cry, for example, I would not internalize the noise, knowing it was just his way of communicating instead of an insult on my parenting skills. Knowing that babies are not menacing or purposefully hurtful beings helps to keep emotions — and the subsequent reactions — in check. Here are a handful of ways I started to reframe my highly sensitive thoughts as a new parent.

5 Ways My Baby Helped Me Reframe My Sensitivity 

1. Babies don’t notice if you don’t get everything done.

Highly sensitive people tend to get triggered by chaos and mess, and new babies bring a whole lot of both of those things. The house is perpetually a disaster because you are tired — we HSPs need more sleep than others. You have people bringing you gifts and stopping to meet the new baby, and they, too, can leave a disastrous wake in their path. Your partner may be trying to help, which is lovely, but no one cleans and organizes the same way you do. So even though there is some help, it probably leaves you squirming with things left undone or not quite right.

However, if you stop and breathe and take a look at the new creature in your arms — who is probably asleep or crying — you will realize that this new baby doesn’t care if the shoes are put away or if there are footprints on the hardwood floors or that if you didn’t make a five-course meal for dinner. 

Even as the baby begins to crawl or walk, it still won’t matter to them that there is goop covering the once-clean granite countertops or fingerprints covering the fridge or a to-do list that’s yet unfinished. Believe me, I know it is incredibly hard to let these things go, and there is no perfect solution for every different person.

But if you can spend your time worrying less about the crumb-filled carpet as your little one learns to roll over, I can assure you that the energy and joy will be far higher spent on the latter. I have had to tell myself over and over that the sticky fingerprints and dusty countertops will always be there. Always. But watching my little one start to walk or reach up tall for the first time are moments that will be gone in the blink of an eye. I can clean later. I can organize later. I can rewrite my to-do list later. But I can’t redo or recreate these once-in-a-lifetime moments.

2. Babies don’t judge you (as others might).

I care. I care a lot. Most HSPs care more than we’d like to admit. And when you are the proud parent of a new baby, everyone else seems to care about that baby, too. And having opinions coming at you from every unsolicited angle is incredibly challenging. Simply knowing that I care about what others are telling me is the best trick that I found that has helped me to deal with everyone else’s overzealous caring. Just because I care about what someone says does not mean I have to take their advice. (Remember that!)

When some well-intentioned friend tells me that I need to put socks on my baby, but I know that he doesn’t like socks, and that we aren’t going outside, and that it is not that cold out, and that he prefers blankets, I really know that they are telling me what they would do in my situation. They aren’t really telling me what I have to do. So I don’t need to immediately spring into action and put those life-saving socks on my child. 

Plus, the person giving the advice probably doesn’t even expect anything more than a simple nod of the head or an “okay” from me. That person wants to contribute to my experience as a parent, or they want to be a parent, or they want to help out, and providing advice is the best way that they can do so in that moment.

As incredibly frustrating and overwhelming unsolicited advice can be as a new parent, I have worked on being consciously aware of not reacting to the opinions and advice I do not need. I can store them away in my head and leave them there, where I can pull them out if (and when) it suits me (and my baby) best. 

We highly sensitive souls usually have great instincts and memory banks, so here is a perfect chance to use that mental filing system for a great purpose. And as I purposefully try not to care too much about the information that is given to me, I also purposefully try to act on the information that does enhance my experiences with my child. For example, I make sure to enjoy being awakened each night as the baby cries (this will only last about a year); I don’t forget to enjoy the snuggles (they will eventually pass); and I enjoy not worrying about accidents when the little one isn’t crawling or walking yet… I know that my child will grow up way too fast, so even with situations that are overwhelming (for any parent, but particularly HSPs), I try to see them in the best light and enjoy them.

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3. Babies can’t be spoiled (at least not yet).

One of the best things I remember from my prenatal class is that you can’t spoil a baby: You can’t hold them too much and you can’t give them too much love. 

As a highly sensitive person, I hold an excessive amount of guilt around being a parent. So knowing that my excess attention on my baby these first couple of years won’t ruin him for his future is something I need to remember. Even so, I continually ask the questions that all parents ask: Am I the right parent? Am I letting my baby sleep enough? Am I coddling him? Am I letting him grow independently? Should I let him make that mistake? The questions and the googling and the searching for the “right” answers is incessant, and the balance of knowledge and guilt is a hard line to walk. After all, HSPs feel things so deeply, including how our baby is feeling, too, and we want the very best for them.

But as you are frantically googling if you introduced milk one week too early or if your little one rolled over two weeks too late, it is important to remember that babies won’t remember those times. And they certainly won’t come back 20 years down the line and accuse you of not switching them to milk by the time they were a one-year-old. They won’t hold a grudge against you because you cuddled them too much when they were crying. They won’t be angry that you rocked them to sleep. They won’t wish that you fed them mushed rice instead of mushed oats.

But since HSPs tend to overthink things, it’s easy to overthink everything.

As a good parent, we are all doing the best we can as we learn what is best for our baby and best for ourselves in this new role as a parent. And we are doing all in our power to create the best environment and opportunity for our baby. 

So knowing that as long as it is your best effort — and that you’re providing for your baby’s needs while keeping yourself sane, healthy, happy, fed, and reasonably rested, too — you won’t be spoiling your child. You will be keeping them alive and making sure you are capable of continually providing for them as they are in this age of need. And, as a bonus, if you are enjoying these precious times of caring for your little one, all the better.

4. Babies don’t notice style, like if they don’t have the fanciest, most expensive crib.

The pressure of picking out cute clothes, the “right” stroller, the most developmentally advanced toys… is stressful, to say the least. (See my point above about overthinking!)

If you have never had a child before, then these are all big decisions with no basis for understanding what is “right” or even needed. How are you supposed to know that the ads that are everywhere in the media are correct? Will this specific type of crib really make your baby into the best sleeper and the envy of all of your friends because you have this magic baby who sleeps through the night? 

And all this is extra challenging for highly sensitive parents, because we process all information on such a deep level, which makes these choices and decisions time-consuming and exhausting. But at some point, logic, research, and a good head on your shoulders should help you weigh out the differences between the wants and needs of your baby.

Trends cost money. And keeping up with the ever-changing styles and trends is not only tiring, but also very, very expensive. There is a difference between what your baby needs for survival (a guardian, food, shelter, health, clothes, love, comfort) and the wants you have for your baby (a fancy stroller that converts into not only a car seat, but a plane, as well?!). Trying to meet the needs of your baby is relatively easy and quite inexpensive. Attempting to meet the demands of society and social media — who are forever trying to convince you that you won’t raise a good and healthy child if you don’t put out the dollars — is pricey and tiresome.

Your baby won’t notice if he is wearing hand-me-down shoes or brand new Converse High Tops. Your baby won’t sleep better in a crib that you bought from a friend or one you bought from a high-end baby store. Your baby won’t grow up loving you more or less if you bought five pairs of clothes or 500 pairs of clothes for him to wear. It is hard to separate the pressures of spending from the real emotions of loving a new baby. But your baby will love you no matter what they are wearing. (And even if their car seat doesn’t turn into a plane, as was promised!)

5. Babies don’t “need” a birthday party when they turn one.

I know this point may be a tough thing to hear — it is a tough thing to write and even to believe — but it is true. We HSPs get overstimulated easily, and a one-year-old’s birthday party will be the epitome of overstimulation (plus, an HSP hangover is sure to follow). 

Just know that it is okay to not throw a huge, over-the-top, hundreds of dollars, mountains of stress, presents-your-baby-doesn’t-really-need party. And the biggest point? Your baby won’t even notice. 

The stress that is self-induced by trying to meet societal norms, especially when you are a highly sensitive first-time parent, is sometimes avoidable. Being more in-tune with pressures as an HSP means it is probably harder to realize that it is okay to not do some things. But if it means that you will enjoy your little one’s first birthday more by having a small family dinner, by opening presents with grandparents, or doing something else that works for your new family, then do that.

Your little one won’t know (or remember) that you celebrated a week later because she had a cold on her actual birthday. And your little one also won’t notice if you decide to rewrap toys that have been forgotten for months so they can reopen and rediscover them. And if you decide to skip presents all together, your baby won’t notice that either!

Spending happy time together every day, including birthdays, is what matters more than one big, stressful party.

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