Your baby loves spending time with you. As her caregiver, you provide everything she needs and more. So it’s only fitting that at some point as she grows, she will experience distress when you aren’t around.
While it’s always painful to hear your baby cry out in distress, separation anxiety in babies is completely normal. It’s part of their development, and it means that all the bonding you do with your baby has been working — they’re completely attached to you.
Most experts agree that signs of separation anxiety usually start when a baby is about seven months old. Around this age is when babies can tell the difference between people they’re around and begin to develop emotional attachments to those closest to them, like parents or caregivers.
The problem is, though, that it takes some time for little ones to learn object permanence, so when you’re away and out of sight, they don’t know that you’ll eventually return.
Every baby is different of course, but typically a child’s separation anxiety will ease or lessen around age two. The peak for separation anxiety in little ones is usually between 10 and 18 months old.
Your baby has several typical, telltale signs when she is upset that you are already accustomed to like crying and fussiness. Here are some of the signals that your newborn is experiencing separation anxiety:
The general idea is frequent fussiness when your baby is alone or away from you. This can be frustrating, as you can’t be in the same room as your little one 24/7. But there are ways to ease her worries and help her adjust to the distance.
Be aware that your little one is more likely to react unhappily during certain situations if he’s hungry or tired. If you can, plan your leaves after naps or feedings when your baby is likely to be in a better mood.
Keep in mind that how you react to your child’s distress can send the wrong message. For instance, if she cries out when you leave the room and you immediately rush back to her side, she could learn that crying will always make you reappear.
Try to be a bit sneaky about it. When leaving your baby with a sitter or a relative, have them give your baby a distraction like a new toy or a bath. That way maybe your absence can go mostly unnoticed.
If you’re just leaving the room or putting your baby in his bed, keep the door open so you can still hear each other if needed.
Start a routine for bedtime. The consistency can reassure your little one that the separation at night is normal and she can expect to see you once she wakes up.
Be reassuring and keep your promises if you can. If your child is a little older and can understand, let him know when you will return and be specific about it. Let him know that you will only be gone a little while. This might help with your own separation worries as well.
“My daughter is two. I don’t work. Around a year it got bad, I couldn’t leave her at church. So we did like immersion therapy. I hired a babysitter and put her in a three hour, once a week playgroup-type thing. And it was over pretty quick. I love my kid, but I refuse to have her separation anxiety prevent her, or me, from enjoying life. Trying to work on it is tricky with quarantine going on, but usually just reassuring her is helpful. And I know she will grow out of it.” –Audry Waters
“My baby just turned five months, and I just started back at work and had to bring her to daycare for the first time. She did not handle it well at all. We’re trying to just drop her off a few hours at a time so she can get used to it. It helps if we sit with her a few minutes so she can adjust before we tell her we’re leaving and will be back later.” –Heather Roberts
” It does get better, mine is extremely attached to mommy and freaked out the first time we even dropped him off for church service so we started bringing him to the parent’s day out program for an hour in the evening and would stop in every 15 minutes to let him know we were still there, I let him hold something of mine so he would know I couldn’t leave without coming back in, we also parked near the window so he could look out the window and recognize our car was still there.” -Rachel Bowle
The separation anxiety phase can be very tiring for both the parent and the baby. But it’s a natural phase of development that most babies will grow out of. The key is to be patient and reassuring for both you and your little one.