Separation Anxiety In Babies – 4 Helpful Tips

Separation Anxiety In Babies - 4 Helpful Tips

You sneak out from under the covers to make a quick toilet stop before the baby wakes. Your feet barely hit the floor when two eyes blink open and a familiar wail begins to arise. With a sigh, you pick up your little one and manage to balance her on your lap, while you pee with practised skill.

Clasping her to your hip, you choose toast over cereal — because it’s easier to eat one handed — before heading to the bathroom to share a quick shower. As you skip the shampoo, you ponder how long it’s been since you managed to shave your legs and underarms.

After the shower, you wrap your baby against your chest, before starting the day with the easiest task to do while wearing your baby – vacuuming around the toys on the floor.

Just another day in the life with a Velcro baby.

What Causes Separation Anxiety In Babies?

Babies go through clingy stages because it’s developmentally normal and appropriate — it’s actually a sign that your baby is making progress.

As parenting expert and author, Pinky McKay, says: “Newborns depend on close contact to adapt to the world outside the womb. Carrying your baby will not only help him feel secure, but will regulate his immature heartbeat, rhythmic movements and respiration, helping to balance irregular waking, sleeping and feeding rhythms.  As they grow, it is common for babies to become clingy at significant developmental stages and, just as babies have physical growth spurts, they also achieve neurological milestones such as being able to perceive distance, which typically happens at around 25 weeks.”

So, clingy behaviour can simply be your baby realising that her mother can leave her, resulting in clingy behaviour. After all, you could have a one way ticket to China for all she knows!

What Is Separation Anxiety?

Separation anxiety in babies is a real, distressing event. In the early months of life, babies have no concept of independence, i.e. being a separate being from his or her mother. As Donald Winnicott, an English psychologist, has said:

“There is no such thing as a baby, there is a baby and someone.”

See, your baby thinks that you and she are one combined being. It is the gradual realisation that comes over time that her mother is an individual, separate being who can go away. This overwhelms her. Separation anxiety tends to peak around 9 months but is seen in younger – and older – babies too.

Becoming aware that your mother could leave you at any moment is a huge shock. There is only one way to prevent it: try to keep your mother in sight at all times. Suddenly, your baby is no longer happy to lie awake, play alone or even be held by dad, unless her mother is touching and looking at her. Strap on the Velcro! Where you go, baby goes too!

4 Great Tips For Separation Anxiety In Babies

So, what can you do to gently ease your baby through these important transitions?

Separation Anxiety Tip #1: Know That You Haven’t “Spoiled Your Baby”

Dr William Sears explains: “Attachment studies have spoiled the spoiled children theory. Researchers Drs Bell and Ainsworth at John Hopkins University studied two sets of parents and their children. Group A were attachment-parented babies. These babies were securely attached, the products of responsive parenting. Group B babies were parented in a more restrained way, with a set schedule and given a less intuitive and nurturing response to their cues. All these babies were tracked for at least a year. Which group do you think eventually turned out to be the most independent? Group A – the securely-attached babies. Researchers who have studied the effects of parenting styles on children’s later outcome have concluded, to put it simply, that the spoiled children theory is utter nonsense.”

Separation Anxiety Tip #2: Fussy Phases Are NORMAL And It Too WILL Pass!

Authors of The Wonder Weeks explain: “For 35 years, we have been studying interactions between mothers and babies. We have documented – in objective observations, from personal records, and on videotape – the times at which mothers report their babies to be ‘difficult.’ These difficult periods are usually accompanied by the three C’s: Clinginess, Crankiness, and Crying. We now know that they are the tell-tale signs of a period in which the child makes a major leap forward in his mental development.”

Separation Anxiety Tip #3: You Can Help Your Baby Learn That It’s Okay

Other developmental changes occur around the same time that are related to this awareness of being out of sight but not gone forever. Peek-a-boo becomes the best game for babies at this stage, so they comfortably see someone disappear and reappear over and over, learning this is normal and reliable.

Waving “bye bye!” reinforces people go away, and wave hello that they return. The awareness that something out of sight still exists means looking into bags, boxes and buckets for toys – teaching baby that out of sight isn’t out of mind. Scientists call this “object permanence” and it’s an important stage of development. By playing these games with your baby, you are helping her learn to understand absence.

Separation Anxiety Tip #4: Carried Babies Cry MUCH Less

What many mothers suspect is confirmed by research. In one study where carrying was increased throughout the day, (in addition to carrying which occurred during feeding and in response to crying), infants cried and fussed 43% less overall, and 51% less during the evening. Studies at Columbia University which included mothers and infants considered at risk of failing to form secure attachments, showed that increased carrying led to increased maternal sensitivity, which resulted in less crying and quicker bonding.

Babywearing is a great way to help separation anxiety in babies, as well as free your arms to do other things. Learn more in our article here.

Always remember…

Before you know it, you will be the one worried when your baby is out of sight! Soon, your clingy baby will evolve into an adventurous toddler, ready to explore the world and all that is in it. By meeting his needs to be with you now, you are building the foundation for him to be the confident, independent child of the future.


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Yvette O'Dowd has been a breastfeeding counsellor and educator since 1992. She has three adult children and a two year old granddaughter - the best sort of bonus baby! Yvette runs a popular natural parenting network, is a babywearing educator, and runs antenatal breastfeeding classes for parents expecting twins and more! She is a keen photographer and scrap-booker and a keeper of a fairy garden.

    1. At that age I hardly ever put my babies down. They were either strapped to me in a sling, in daddy’s arm for a quick pee or on me or daddy, asleep till we went to bed. Then they were beside me in bed.

      I believe our babies need that closeness since they’ve had it for nine months, because to then abruptly lose it is so very hard for them. It’s like a fourth trimester. Vulnerable and scared and so completely dependant on you to keep them safe and secure, babies need to know you have them 100%. At two weeks old they are still so young and brand new.

      “When your baby is all grown up. Will you really be wishing you held them less. Or regret not holding them more?”

      1. I agree with you. Especially the Las part about wishing you held your baby more. I don’t even mind being awake with my baby at night because I know these days will never come back. Enjoy your baby and that closeness while he or she is still a baby.

    2. I found the best thing to do is to let him fall asleep where you intend for him to wake up. For me, this means breastfeeding him to sleep on our bed (following SIDS safe sleeping guidelines) and then leaving the room when he falls asleep. Enjoy this time of snuggles, it doesn’t last forever!

  1. My 15 month old is severely attached to me also. Shower restroom sleeping I have to be in his sight at all times. Even having to carry him. Mind you he is walking and 26 lbs. I also have three other children. I’m exhausted!!!!!! HELP!!!

    1. Desma, I am so glad to not be the only one experiencing this with an older baby. My daughter, for months would not go to others well and certainly would not be left with anyone, including her dad, my husband. She is 16 and a half months now and it is getting better. Grandma took her and her sister away for the morning and she did great, though was a little clingy when she came home (but not the screaming and crying when she was not with me). Last night I was able to leave the house without her… I told her where I was going and that I would be back and she stayed with Dad without any trouble.
      Hang in there Momma! Your baby must be going through something and you are his anchor. There were many days I had to strap the baby on my back just to get something done and give the other kids the attention they needed.
      It will get better.

    2. Am sorry mamas but ur answers are abit unrealistic a mom need some alone time per day u cant be at ue best all day and NIGHT my 16 month is not giving me a break she needs to hold my hand all night and now in day time too she just want me to sit on the couch and do norhing all day bit watch her my older girl 6 years feels frustrated too we cant have any alone time I cant even shower her I tought her how to shower alone while I hold her little sister its getting frustrating for all the family no sleep at night and clingy all day am losing my mind here am very angry and tired .pls help with a reasonable advice

  2. I’ve got a nearly month old who since being 2 Months old hates anyone other than me 60% off the time she will like her daddy but anyone other than us she screams and screams until we take her back,

  3. I am going back to work and my husband will be home with our daughter, I’m sad she wont be clingy with me but with him instead. anyone go to work and still have their baby cling to them?

  4. I can safely say that my 18 month old has been clingy since he was born and although it is exhausting sometimes, I do realize that these are the times when I will get to enjoy him the most. Because I am aware that at one point or another, he will want his independence and it will probably be me wanting to be clingy hahaha.

  5. Im not sure where to begin but im a first time mother and ive been around children forever… I even helped raise my siblings… Blessing of being the oldest child… Anyway i have a 5 month old that is strickly breastfed… He refuses the bottle and pacifier… I planned on breast feeding until he was a year anyway and it was the plan for me to be a stay at home mother so why force it when i really dont need to… Its no bother to anyone but a certain family member… Making comments like nobody can bond with the baby because hes breastfed… I personally think there is plenty of ways to bond with a baby! You shouldnt need to feed a bottle to a baby to bond with him… Also anyone that comes to visit i have them wash their hands… This person also has an issue… My baby is 100% a mommas boy… He doesnt mind you playing with him but if you pick him up he gets upset and wants me… Another issuse for this person… Saying he cant be attached to mommy forever… Did i mention hes 5 months old?! Lastly when there is a visit they mentioned i shouldnt be in the room… They want alone time, they feel im supervising… Im just confused as to what baby doesnt want their mother and what mother just leaves the room when people come to visit? Sorry for the paragraph but i need opinions please…

    1. Your visitor sounds like a crank to me….! Breastfeeding is the most natural thing in the world but I too had some folk saying the same (Including my OH!) so I expressed into a bottle for this purpose which pleased OH (he loves to feed our babies) and gave me half an hour’s peace!
      You’re right – there are other ways to bond, but feeding is particularly strong.
      Washing hands – good. How can anyone complain about hygiene?
      As for leaving the room – not on your life! My house, my baby – I won’t be dismissed like a servant!
      Don’t mind popping out to put the kettle on but making a ritual of it is odd!
      Bet this is ma-in-law….. 😉 !

    2. It’s their loss not yours. If that visitor has an issue, they don’t have to visit. You are the momma who carried him for 9 months and you are the momma who is giving him something special. I wish I had been able to breastfeed but I wasnt. I have a 12, 11 , and now 9 month old. He is very clingy to me and wants me all the time. If the jealous person can’t be nice ask them to leave. You have enough on your platter without needing negativity around. My MIL treats me this way and I inform her you don’t pay my bills or anything else so you have no say. And handwashing is a must, I see too many things in the hospital. Cheer up love and good luck

    3. Agreed with both comments! Your baby, your rules! I set some rules out, hand washing and no ‘mouth kissing’ for some of my close girl friends, and they got offended…and probably talked about it behind my back, but who cares! It’s my child. Simple. Never feel bad about making a decision you feel in your mommy tummy is the right one.

  6. Help!! I’m a breastfeeding, working mum, and my poor baby is having major seperation issues. She’s 9 months old, and I’ve been back at work for 4 months, and she’s been totally fine, except when she wakes up early in the morning and I’m not there ( I work early shifts ) She’s cries uncontrollably for up to 10 minutes at a time, on and off until she gets up at about 7. Her father is really struggling to deal with it and it breaks my heart when he rings me and I hear her crying. How can I help her deal with the anxiety???

    1. Try putting something in her bed like your pj top so she has your scent! She might find it comforting x

  7. I have a 4 month old who does not let me set him down for a second. I have talked to his pediatrician and she suggests that I let him cry it out. That sometimes works but lately it hasn’t been helping in the slightest. I’malso breastfeeding and feel like this causes him to be more aattached to me? I find Iit hard to pump bottles for him through out the day so he has bottles for when I go to work. I’m basically a single parent and don’t get much support at home. It’sgetting to the point where I have no aambition to clean, eat, or shower. I need advice!

  8. I have an almost 9 month old breast fed baby. We are struggling more recently with naps. We co sleep at night then during the day she used to sleep in crib. That no longer happens. If I move or shift at all she wakes up. While I love the cuddles I have other things I need to attend to while she naps. Any advice on how to get her in crib more often including at night.

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