Separation anxiety in babies

Posted by iChild, July 11, 2017 2:12 PM

By Midwife and Life

In your baby’s first year, they go through so much rapid development it can be hard to keep on top of what’s going on. No-one likes to leave their baby but we all know it’s inevitable at times and sometimes we need a little "me" time. Some mums are able to take a year off work whilst others need to return sooner.


Around age five months babies start to develop what’s known as Object Permanence. It was the psychologist, Piaget, who first coined the term, and it means that they are becoming aware that objects and people are still there when they’re not in the room. Before that as far as they are concerned if they can’t see it it doesn’t exist! Once they know you exist when you’re gone, they can get upset and miss you. They still don’t know whether or not you’re coming back. It’s only as they get older, usually around 18 months, that the separation anxiety improves as they get used to the routine.

Separation anxiety can appear at different ages, it typically starts at around six months and peaks at around 10-12 months.

What you can do to help your baby through this transition

Playing games like iChild's peep-o will help baby to learn that you are coming back when you go away. Try first playing it with you behind your hands, then you behind a cushion, then behind the door, then out of the room and extend it for longer each time so s/he can get used to you going and coming back again. Keep talking to them throughout so they know you’re there. Have someone else in the room with you, like Daddy, when you do it, and back it up by reading peek-a-boo books together. Doing these things when you’re together, in a safe environment, will help your baby feel more settled for those times when you have to leave them. They’ll get the idea that you’re not going forever.

Consistent Routine

Babies respond well to routine. I’m not suggesting you have something completely regimented, but if your childcare is on the same days and times, with the same people, and perhaps you have a set way of saying goodbye and greeting when you return, they’ll come to know what to expect. You can then apply that to when you have to leave them at other times.

A Transition toy

Having a comforter or special blanket that they’ve got used to, and attached to, from as early as possible can help with separation anxiety. They begin to attach in some way to the comforter, giving it mother like qualities. They must have control over the toy and have access to it at all times. Having such a toy also reinforces their sense of self, as it’s something that is "not them". Making sure they always have their comforter will give them support when you’re not there.



This phase will pass with time, but when you’re in the thick of it, it seems like forever and it’s heartbreaking to see your baby upset. Some babies don’t appear to be too affected by it, whereas others don’t even like it if their mum is on the other side of the room. It has no reflection on you as a mother, it can be down to personality type, and it’s all normal behaviour. It would be more worrying if they showed no signs of separation anxiety and were quite happy to be with whoever. Separation anxiety is a survival mechanism. Babies know that we, as parents, know them best and know how to look after them the best, because we know and love them the most.

By Midwife and Life


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