You and your baby have formed a very close bond. You have feeding well established, she is growing stronger every day, and is a happy and content baby most of the time, however there is one small problem. Over recent weeks, she has become very clingy, getting upset when you leave the room or are out of sight. It feels like only you can hold her and if you try and pass her to your partner or parents, she starts to cry. When it comes to the prospect of childcare or going back to work after maternity leave, their tears can make you feel extremely guilty and emotional!
What you are experiencing is separation anxiety, and although very common, it is also exhausting. If you are breastfeeding and already feel a bit like you are joined at the hip, adding separation anxiety into the mix can be more than a little overwhelming!
What is Separation Anxiety?
The concept of Separation Anxiety is common for babies between 6 months to 3 years of age and can include anxiety when separated from their main care giver combined with a fear of strangers. It is at this age that they begin to understand that you are they are dependent on you and therefore don’t feel safe when you are not around. They also have no developed concept of time, which means when you do leave, they have no idea how long you will be missing or if indeed you will ever return! It’s actually quite sad when you think about it, and no wonder they get a little confused!
Here are my hints and tips for coping with Separation Anxiety.
- Talk about what happens later. If they are old enough to understand, have a little chat about about when Mommy goes to work, or drops them off at childcare, reminding them that Mommy always returns later. E.g. “When Mommy picks you up, we will go to the park”. Positively reinforcing the message that Mommy will come back and that it’s ok to be apart is key.
- Don’t beat yourself up. Remember that going to a childcare setting or spending time with people other than yourself is a positive first step towards independence and despite some tears, is of huge long-term benefit to your child.
- Leave a comforter with your scent close by to comfort and reassure them. The familiar scent will help ease any distress or concern.
- Don’t prolong the goodbyes or look upset or anxious when you leave (even if you feel like crying when you get in the car!)
- Be social, surround your baby with as many faces or friends and family as possible from a young age. This will get them more familiar with strangers and forming new social interactions.
- Encourage confidence and independence. If they crawl out of a room, don’t instantly follow. At baby groups, let them go and collect a toy on their own. Whilst they may still turn around and check you are there, creating some physical distance is a good first step.
- Try and go out occasionally and leave the baby with someone else, even if for a short duration at first. Go for a walk, go shopping, maybe go on a child free date! Your child will gradually learn that whilst Mom does occasionally disappear, she always comes back and that actually they are still perfectly safe when she does.
- Be patient and keep persevering – as with any phase during your baby’s development, these things take time. Take it as a compliment, it’s actually quite flattering that they like being with you so much!
Remember these days will soon feel like a distant memory! I still have my little 3 year old shadow, and I am cherishing it whilst it lasts!