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Signs of Separation Anxiety in Babies & What to Do

last year8 min read
Last updated: Jan 20 2023

Separation anxiety in babies can leave you feeling wrung out. So how can you make it easier? We’ve got tips from real moms who have been there.

Signs of Separation Anxiety in Babies

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.

In this article: 📝

  • What is separation anxiety in babies?
  • When does separation anxiety in babies start?
  • How long do babies go through separation anxiety?
  • How do I know if my baby has separation anxiety?
  • How do I break my baby’s separation anxiety?
  • How can I help my baby sleep with separation anxiety?

What is separation anxiety in babies?

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.

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 do babies go through separation anxiety?

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!

How do I know if my baby has separation anxiety?

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.

Do breastfed babies have more separation anxiety?

Not always.

While breastfeeding can be a trigger for separation anxiety in babies, it’s often not the only cause.

But sometimes, if you’re moving from exclusive breastfeeding to pumping or formula, baby may feel anxious if you’re away from them.

Subconsciously, baby might feel as though they don’t know where their next meal is coming from, which might make them feel more anxious.

But, as mentioned earlier, every baby is different.

How do I break my baby’s separation anxiety?

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:

1. 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.

2. Timing is everything

Try parting from your baby at a time when they’re calmer, such as after a feed or a nap.

3. 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.

4. 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.

5. 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…

6. 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.

7. 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.

8. 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.

9. 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!

10. 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 some baby separation anxiety tips from our Peanut mamas:

1. 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.

2. 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.

3. 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.

4. 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.

Let us know which of these tips for dealing with separation anxiety in babies works for you and your little peanut.

Or, if you have any baby separation anxiety tips of your own, why not share them with the other mamas of Peanut?

Here’s hoping that mama-baby bond just keeps getting stronger, but with fewer tears along the way.

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