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Watching your baby go through milestones is such an awesome feeling. Even though it’s their accomplishment, as a parent you tend to feel proud for aiding them to reach it. However, there is one emotional milestone many of us are not fully prepared for…separation anxiety.
Do all babies go through it?
Short answer..yes! But the degree of severity will vary from baby to baby. In my opinion, certain factors play into that degree of anxiety, which I will discuss a little bit further down.
Separation Anxiety Is Perfectly Normal
According to doctors and behavioral specialist, separation anxiety is in fact considered to be part of your baby’s emotional development. Your baby will reach an age (as early as 7-8 months) when they begin to understand people or objects still exist after being removed from their presence.
Many babies and even toddlers will have what I call anxiety meltdowns when they believe they are being separated from you. To the baby, you are the person who feeds and protects them, so it only seems natural for them to become upset.
When Does Separation Anxiety Occur?
In terms of what age can you expect your baby to hit this phase, some moms have reported the behavior as early as 6 months. (My son started to show his at 8 months) For the majority of babies, this emotional stage hits its peak between 10-18 months.
As far as times of the day or events that trigger anxiety, it varies on the baby and their routines.
If your baby is in childcare, he or she can show anxiety when being left with the caregiver or when you go out to run errands. Even though they may have previously been ok with you temporarily leaving, once this stage hits, all of a sudden it’s scary to them.
Many moms, like myself, have issues with their little ones experiencing what I call bedtime anxiety. I co-slept with my son and he would sleep perfectly through the night. (You can read about co-sleeping benefits here)
At 7 months, I started to put him down in his crib in his own room for bed. He woke up every hour and start to cry once he realized I wasn’t there.
Funny thing is, he sleeps in his room for his day naps just fine. After a week of no sleep for me, I brought him back to our room for bedtime. (I know shame! But I was desperate for sleep!)
Now at 9 months, he starts off in his own room and I tell myself to not bring him back to my room until after the 4th time of me getting up. (again I know not a good habit, but call me a sucker for wanting to comfort my son)
I also try my best to stick to a fun but calming bedtime routine. Bath, quiet playing, and just cuddling while walking around the house saying good night to random objects.
Did I mention separation anxiety is just as tough for parents too? It can be equally frustrating when your baby all of a sudden prefers one parent over the other.
This is where I believe it has a lot to do with the following factors:
- Are they breastfed?
- Is one parent a stay at home parent?
- Which parent is home with the baby more often?
When it comes to babies, I agree that fed is best, whether you formula feed or breastfeed.
However, I do think there is something to the claim of how strong bonding can be when breastfeeding. I exclusively breastfeed (no bottles or pumping), so my theory is my son relies on me so much more than dad right now, therefore I’m the favorite. Haha
While that sounds awesome, it takes its toll on my energy. When my husband gets home from work I think I might earn a little me time, but
If you bottle feed perhaps both parents take turns feeding baby, in which case they see you as equal protectors and caregivers. So these babies may not display separation anxiety or parent preference as strongly.
The above examples can be said for a stay at home parent vs working parents. Babies in daycares will most likely still go through this stage just maybe not as intense as babies who have their parent to themselves all day.
For instance, I am fortunate to be able to stay home and raise my little. So when it’s mom all day everyday, of course he will be more reluctant to let me out of his sights.
It can be frustrating at times when I just want a little time for myself. Fortunately there are ways to help with this!
Advice For Helping Baby Cope
The following tips are ones I have read about in various articles while trying to help my son. For us, we are seeing positive outcomes by implementing them.
- Tip #1– Routine, routine, routine. Babies like most people feel comfort in routines. So by having the same bedtime routine, each night or mealtime routine will assist your child into feeling at ease overall.
- Tip #2– Practice independent play with them. Sounds weird, but start your play times with them, if they wander off into another room (baby safe) let them. Allow them to explore for a couple of minutes on their own before you go in after. This works because the baby is the one who initiated the separation. If you follow right behind them and hover they will come to expect you being there every step of the way.
- Tip #3– Introduce a favorite toy or blanket. Some parents call them loveys, stuffies, etc. The idea here is to pick a stuffed toy or small blanky and have it with the baby while doing a variety of things. Examples such as car rides, story times, cuddle time, play time. Your baby will become attached to it as well so at times when you’re away, at least his stuffy will smell like you and bring some comfort. (My son’s favorite is a wolf stuffed animal, I slept with it a few times so it could smell more like me)
How YOU Can Get Through Separation Anxiety
The biggest thing to remember is that is it completely ok to feel tired, frustrated, and dare I say a tiny bit of resentment of your spouse.
I’m positive at one point every mom has had one or more of these emotions! And they turned out to be fucking great parents, so don’t be hard on yourself!
You have to remind yourself that this is just a phase and that “this too shall pass.”
Believe it or not, it is said that separation anxiety is actually a sign of healthy emotional attachment.
Also, keep in mind they are only this little once! Enjoy that demand for attention and snuggles, because soon they will reach the age of not wanting or needing it as much.
We want to avoid the “ mom isn’t cool” phase in middle school right?
Take It From Other Parents
Sometimes we often feel like we are the only ones with babies going through a behavior or phase. I know I ask myself all the time, “am I the only mom dealing with x,y,z…?”
Good news is you are definitely NOT alone! I’ve reached out and asked other parents to share their stories about going through there personal separation anxiety stage.
Here is what they have to say:
Liz – blueandhazel.com
I have 3 kids ages 5 and under, and this has been a huge struggle for me with each kid but it has always gotten better.
I think being a stay at home mom makes this problem harder because they are not used to me leaving them. There is one thing that helps when I need a break (while at home while my husband is around).
To physically be in another room.
Sometimes this means 30 minutes in my room with the door shut while the baby is with dad and can stop crying.
Other times it’s just having my husband take the baby on a short walk without me so he’s distracted.
When leaving a baby around 1 year old with someone else like a babysitter or church nursery, we just practice leaving quickly. Parents who stay often make it harder on the caregiver because the baby won’t stop crying till the parents leave and then they can be calmed.
To ease my anxiety, I plan dates within 10 minutes to the house “just in case”. And when I get paged from church week after week because the baby won’t stop crying, we try again the next week. Even if we know they’ll cry.
Eventually, this has worked with all 3 of our kids as they learn we always come back, and that they are safe. It’s been easier with each kid because often they have each other to feel safe with if we get a babysitter.
Jason – PixelParenting.com
My one-year-old (Remy) comes flying around the corner running with his hands behind his back. (the 5-year-old showed him that’s how ninjas run)
Remy inevitably biffs face first when he hits the edge of the carpet and pops up to his feet. He puts on that crying/surprised face that only wants to find a familiar face.
Remy sees my wife first and runs to her. I (Dad) come out of the back bedroom and the usual pushing away of mom and running to Dad happens. Stay at home Dadding has given my family two boys that are most definitely Daddy’s.
It’s cute. Until it’s not.
The ongoing struggle is raising strong children that can deal with small life incidents on their own. The best way I have found to introduce young children to being away from the most trusted caregiver is to do it early and often.
Practice first at home. Children have tons of opportunity to be away from Mom or Dad at home. A twenty-minute play area once a day begins to build that comfort zone of “even though I cannot see Dad I know he is around.”
As a parent you cannot drop your child off at the nursery every Sunday before church to cry and call that trying to solve the problem. A healthy balance of structured play with an adult and structured alone time prepares children to be alone outside of the home.
Choose one toy or set of toys (i.e. paw patrol action figures or a tummy time mat for younger children) and set your child down to play with it. Use the same words for clarity each time your child has this type of play. I say, “It’s time to go play. Here is your toy.”
Anything works just keep it clear and simple. If the child cries or runs to me I calmly walk him back to his toy repeating my mantra, but never engaging in the child’s play. Tears will happen, but they are manageable at home.
Pretty soon (okay not soon it will take time) your child will understand you are always there for them, but you have expectations for their behavior. End the playtime with excitement that they are all done and you are moving on to the next thing.
As with any behavior there will be push back, however remembering the end goal of nice drop-offs and the allure of twenty minutes of Dad time makes all the struggle worth it.
Natacha – easybusyveganmom.com
As a stay at home mom, I am spending a lot of time with my 14-month-old baby. However, I am also working at home a few hours a week teaching French online in the evening. She’s had separation anxiety since the beginning.
During the day, she could be separated from me more or less for an hour or so maximum. However, in the evening, she starts to need me even more. It’s normal as she is more tired and she needs to be comforted by me.
I end up having to take a 30-minute break after one hour of class to be with her and breastfeed her.
If we are lucky. she falls asleep at that time, then it’s usually fine because she wouldn’t wake again until my class ends.
However, if she doesn’t fall asleep, even though she is tired, then it’s quite difficult when I have to go to my office again. She will scream and scream sometimes without stopping.
From my experience, to deal with separation anxiety you have to think
That’s why my first piece of advice is to accept this situation. And if you can, stay with your baby when they show signs of separation anxiety.
The only way to ease the frustration as a mom is to have empathy towards our baby in understanding how they feel. They feel lost without us, it is a fact, and we have to accept it.
Believe me, I know how difficult it is sometimes and how I am frustrated that she needs me so much. However, the times I accept the situation and just think about how much she needs me, then I just relax and give her the love she needs.
My second piece of advice is for when you cannot stay with your baby even when they show signs of separation anxiety.
In that case, the father needs to put all his attention to the baby. Carry him, take him for a stroll, show him the birds, the dogs, anything to distract him. My hubby is also singing for our baby and carrying her in the baby carrier to help her fall asleep.
Sometimes, he succeeds in calming her down, sometimes she just falls asleep crying for me. It’s frustrating for a dad to not be able to do anything for his baby in this case, but again, the only advice here is to accept it and be there for the baby as best as he can.
Separation Anxiety Will Soon Fizzle
So to the mom near her wits end,longing for at least 1 hour to herself, I have one last thing to say.
Muscle Up, Buttercup!
I promise, as moms before me have promised it is just a phase that will come and go! Some days make it feel like it will never end, but looking at the big picture, it is just a small blip in your child’s life.
Enjoy every minute of it, the fun parts and the hard parts! In the end it is always worth it!
If you enjoyed this article, you might also like my article on habits our babies pick up from us too! Read it here!
Be sure to share this with another parent going through this phase too! It’s always nice to have reassurance!