HELP EASE SEPARATION ANXIETY
Your baby suddenly refuses to go to strangers. This is totally normal, and even healthy
B efore you learn to integrate your other roles back into your life after having had a baby, you are 100% a mom. Your very first “separation” from your brand new baby is the state of being asleep. Initially this state of being separate from your newborn creates anxiety for mom, explains Meg Faure of babysense.com, who is an occupational therapist and childcare expert. That is why many moms choose to have their baby sleep in her bed. And if parents feel stress in being away from their babies, why not the other way around? “If we as adults suffer anxiety over separating from our babies for sleep times, it is understandable that at some stage in the first few years, your baby or toddler too will suffer some anxiety when separating from the person she depends on so completely,” says Meg.
REALISING THAT YOU ARE INDEED TWO SEPARATE PEOPLE IS AN IMPORTANT MILESTONE. IT SHOULD BE CELEBRATED, AND IT SHOULD CERTAINLY NEVER BE REGARDED AS ‘NAUGHTY’
‘I AM MY OWN PERSON’
At birth, a baby does not yet know that she is separate from her mother, or primary caregiver. She is totally dependent. When someone else tries to comfort her, she might cry because the person is simply not soothing her in the same way as Mom. However, this is not separation anxiety.
The “memory” part of a baby’s brain only develops in the second half of her first year, so she sees and recognises you from a very young age, but does not have a memory of when you are around or not, explains Meg. The concept of time and space is also not real for baby before six months, meaning that she will not know for how long you are away when you do disappear. When a toy is moved out of her sight, as far as your baby is concerned, it no longer exists.
Around this time she also realises that she is her own person with a body and feelings. You will notice that she respond more to your voice, cuddles and attention. Hence, your baby can learn that she can express her displeasure by crying and reaching for you. Getting upset if you leave her – even if it’s just for a very short period – is absolutely normal.
Realising that you are indeed two separate people is an important milestone. It should be celebrated, and it should “All this blissful ignorance disappears at around six to eight months of age, when your baby develops object permanence,” says Meg. This simply means that she learns that things and people exist even when they are out of sight. This realisation can be deeply distressing. Baby feels safest when you are around – she loves and trusts you!
certainly never be regarded as “naughty”. Your baby is still too young to understand that you will indeed return, so you need to teach her this over time.
SLOWLY DEVELOP INDEPENDENCE
Developing independence and trust takes time, and it is important to do it so that your baby starts to be able to cope with your absences. She might not comprehend fully what it means when you greet her, but it is still important to do so. Never sneak out without saying goodbye, as this will just make her more anxious the next time you are out of sight. Always explain that you will be back. Eventually she will learn that separations are followed by happy reunions.
Over time she will become more confident and realise that the separation from you is only temporary. Staying with a relative, at crèche or with the nanny will become easier for her.
Ease into leaving her. Try to introduce times that you are away from for short periods by leaving her with a responsible caregiver for 20 minutes, then for an hour and later on for three hours. Leaving her with a new person is sure to leave her distressed at first – and possibly you as well! Some babies may even develop sleep issues due to their fear that Mommy will leave. Be patient with both of you as you learn his new separateness. Give your baby a comfort item (like her cuddle blanket or soft toy) or a piece of clothing that you have worn. The familiar smell could help her feel calmer.
STRIKING A BALANCE
Finding the balance between responding to your baby with empathy and care, while reminding yourself that this phase will pass, is key. “But while it lasts, to avoid longterm bad habits developing, be firm about not falling into the trap of feeding or rocking your baby to sleep, or co-sleeping, if these are habits you do not wish to encourage,” says Meg.