Picture the scene: you’re at the daycare center (or grandma’s, or the babysitter’s house), getting ready to say goodbye to your little one. But they’re not happy. In fact, when you try to leave, they’re bawling their head off. And, later, in the car – when you’re bawling your own head off – you think, Okay, so that’s separation anxiety in babies. What do I do now???
We hear you, mama. Separation anxiety in infancy is tough, and it can leave you feeling guilty and upset. When your little one is so unhappy to leave you, it can make you wonder whether you’ve done the right thing in entrusting them to another caregiver.
But listen: if your baby has separation anxiety, that’s actually a good thing. Why? It means you’ve been able to build up a strong bond with them. They don’t want to let you go!
At the same time, we know that sometimes they do have to let you go. So, in this article, we’re going to give you some tips for handling separation anxiety in babies. Hopefully, they’ll take a little bit of the pain out of the parting.
First, let’s talk about when and why separation anxiety happens.
In this article: 📝
- When does separation anxiety in babies start?
- How to deal with separation anxiety in babies: 10 tips
- How can I help my baby sleep with separation anxiety?
When does separation anxiety in babies start?
Separation anxiety in babies typically starts when they’re around 8 months old. At this point, your baby has learned that they’re a separate little being (rather than a kind of extension of whoever is feeding/changing/cuddling them at the time) and they’ve also developed a powerful emotional attachment to you.
They also have a sense of object permanence now. That’s the understanding that a person or thing exists when they can’t see it. What they don’t yet understand is time. If a thing is gone from sight, they don’t know when (if ever) that thing is coming back.
So, emotional attachment to you + not knowing if you’re going to return = separation anxiety.
No matter if you’re leaving them in their crib at night, in the next room for a few minutes, or the daycare center for the morning – the parting can still seem like the end of the world to them, in that moment.
How long does separation anxiety last in babies?
If you’re weathering the storm of 10 month old separation anxiety right now, you’re probably wondering: How long do babies go through separation anxiety?
Well, 10 months tends to be the peak of separation anxiety and it might last until they’re 18 months old. Most babies have grown out of it by the time they’re 2 years old. Over time, they’ll learn that it’s okay to be apart from you for a while, and they’ll have the happiness of seeing you again soon!
What are the signs of separation anxiety in babies?
How do I know if my baby has separation anxiety? you ask. Every baby is different, but these are some of the signs:
- Crying when you leave them, even just to go into another room
- Being clingier than usual
- Wariness around strangers, or even people they’re familiar with
- Not wanting to go to bed
- Waking up more frequently during the night
If your baby is tired, hungry, or sick, these reactions can be more intense.
How to deal with separation anxiety in babies: 10 tips
How do you stop separation anxiety in babies? Actually, you can’t stop it per se. It’s a normal emotional reaction to a difficult transition moment – parting from their beloved mama. And it’s a sign that your little one is developing and growing up!
But let’s look at some ways you can smooth the transition:
Practise makes perfect. Before taking the step of leaving your baby with another caregiver, you can practise separation through play. Peekaboo, hiding and then revealing an object, or sending toys on “journeys” before bringing them back – these are all fun ways of getting your baby used to separation and reunion.
Timing is everything. Try parting from your baby at a time when they’re calmer, such as after a feed or a nap.
Be consistent. Getting your baby into a routine of being dropped off and picked up at a certain time each day can help them be more comfortable with the situation.
Goodbye rituals. Another routine tip! Ease the transition with a special goodbye ritual that you always do with your baby. This could be kisses, hugs, or even singing a song together.
Make it quick. Don’t draw out the pain of the moment by staying and trying to comfort your baby (we know this is such a difficult instinct to resist!). Simply say your goodbyes (or do your goodbye dance) and head off. Your little one will soon cheer up if they feel safe and happy with their new caregiver. But…
Don’t just disappear. Sneaking out while your baby is distracted could leave them feeling more anxious and upset later, when they realize you’ve gone.
Put on a happy face. Your heart may be breaking inside, but it’s best to smile and be cheerful when you’re saying goodbye. If your baby sees you crying too, they can get even more upset, but if you seem happy and confident, this could help reassure them.
Teddy to the rescue. A familiar object like a stuffed animal or their blankie can help comfort your baby in an unfamiliar place. Even better if it smells like you! Try spritzing some of your scent onto a teddy bear, or even sleeping with it for a while.
The joyful reunion. When you’re reunited with your baby, aim to make this a really positive experience for them – whether that’s a big hug or getting down on the daycare floor to play with them for a few minutes. This will help to strengthen your bond with them, and they’ll start to understand that separation can be followed by something wonderful!
Give yourself a break. Separation anxiety in parents is a thing too! Especially if you’ve been with your little one pretty much non-stop since egg met sperm. Be kind to yourself, and try to enjoy your new independence while it lasts.
How can I help my baby sleep with separation anxiety?
Separation anxiety in babies at night can leave both you and your little sleepyhead feeling rather cranky. So how can you help your baby cope on their own during the night-time? Here are our quick tips:
Create a bedtime routine. Yep, the all-important routine again. Ease your baby into sleep-time with a regular schedule of bath-time bubbles, storybooks, and cuddles.
Make the crib a happy place. You can help your baby associate their crib with happiness by giving them some positive experiences there, such as playing with them after nap-time.
Create a mixtape. Try recording yourself reading stories or singing lullabies, so you can play this to comfort your baby if they wake up feeling anxious.
Share the bedtime routine. If you have a co-parent, you can take turns with bedtime duty or do it together. Then, even if one of you is out for the evening, your baby is less likely to be anxious that night – they still have someone familiar to tuck them in.
Here’s hoping that mama-baby bond just keeps getting stronger, but with fewer tears along the way.