Congratulations! You’ve made it through those dreaded newborn and early infancy months. Your baby has probably been sleeping well, starting to eat solids, giving the most adorable snuggles, and becoming a little person.
This is when it seems like life is getting just a bit easier (hopefully). That is, until the separation anxiety phase begins.
Both of my babies experienced separation anxiety. One around 7-8 months and another around 8-9 months.
They both showed their anxiety in different ways, but I knew the issues were stemming from the same problem: fear of being away from mom and dad.
What is separation anxiety in babies and why does it start?
When infants start to experience separation anxiety, they are very bothered by their parents or primary caregivers leaving them.
They may have a hard time separating from them when it’s time to go to work, daycare, or even a grandparent’s house. It can even just occur within their own home, but while they’re not being held or close to you.
This phase usually occurs between 7-9 months, primarily because your baby is starting to understand so much more about the world around them. They now know who their parents are, who provides them with the most love and comfort, and who is with them most of the time.
Before this phase, they really had no concept of who different people are. They didn’t realize they had a mom and dad, but just felt comfort from any person caring for them. They would easily go to anyone’s arms, as long as they were being held.
Now that they realize there are important people in their lives, separating from those loved ones terrifies them. They aren’t quite aware that they will ever see you again once you leave.
Related Post: Establishing Healthy Sleep Habits for Your Baby
What issues can arise from separation anxiety?
Both of my children had different experiences with separation anxiety.
My first child had a difficult time separating from us when she would see her babysitter or other people that she wasn’t so familiar with.
My second child experienced it more at bedtime, leading to many sleepless nights for both he and I.
Here are some ways that you will see separation anxiety coming out in your baby. If they are around the 8 month mark, I’d guarantee that this is the reason you are seeing these behaviors.
1. Sleep Issues
Just when you thought you made it to the great sleep phase, think again. Here comes another sleep regression due to separation anxiety.
Separation anxiety may show itself by your baby not being able to fall asleep on his own anymore. We used to be able to just drop my son in his crib and he would suck his pacifier and fall right asleep on his own.
Once the separation anxiety phase kicked in, he had a difficult time putting himself to bed. He would scream and cry until we held and rocked him to sleep.
Then when he would wake up in the middle of the night, he would also need that reassurance that mom was there and needed to be rocked and held to sleep, as well.
It was a vicious cycle because the more you feed their anxiety and give in to them needing you, the more they will ask for it. However, when your little one is upset, all you want to do is hold and comfort them.
2. Uncontrollable crying when around others
These issues occur when strangers or unfamiliar faces are around or when they know you’re leaving them. Fear just overcomes them and they don’t know how to handle it.
Maybe it happens every morning as you’re getting dressed for work because they know you’re leaving. It could also occur when you’re dropping them off at daycare or a babysitter.
When my daughter would have separation issues, she would scream like crazy when seeing her grandparents or babysitter. She didn’t want to let me go and would have a fit by just seeing the people that she knew would be taking her.
However, these issues would only occur while I was still present because she knew she could have me. Once I left, within 5 minutes, she would calm down and realize everything was alright.
4. Inability to be left alone
Some babies may even have a hard time being left alone right next to you around this age. Even just putting your baby down on the floor to crawl around could be torture for them.
They may want you in sight at all times or even if you are in sight, they may want to be held by you. Again, they are just starting to learn about how to get what they want, as well as knowing that you’re the person that is always with them.
Related Post: 15 Things to Do Before Your Baby Turns 1
What can I do to help them deal with their separation anxiety?
1. Prepare them for you leaving
Although you may not realize how much your baby understands now, they really know a lot more than you may think. Talk to them about you leaving.
Prepare them each morning as you’re getting ready. Say “mommy’s going to work and will see you after.”
Start a morning routine so that they know what to expect. Maybe you read a book to them before you leave for work, give them breakfast, or sing them a song.
Offering them a predictable ritual everyday could ease their minds into knowing what to expect.
2. Reassure your baby that you will be back for them
Their separation anxiety may not come from missing you, but not knowing if you’ll ever come back. Talk to them about the plans that you have when you come back and see them again.
Perhaps you can say, “Mommy can’t wait to play with you after work” or “we’re going to the park later when mommy gets home.”
Again, your baby understands a lot, so use language and gestures to let them know that they will see you again.
3. Give them an item that will provide comfort
If they don’t have an item that provides comfort yet, you can start this association. Give them a stuffed animal or small blanket that they can hold at bedtime or when you’re leaving them.
It may take a little while for them to form an association to it, but they typically will.
My daughter gained interest in her stuffed dog very quickly and always associated it with sleep. So as soon as she would hold it, her thumb would pop right into her mouth and she would roll over and fall asleep.
This helped her take away the association of me leaving onto another object that she found comfort in.
4. Sleep train again
If you’ve already been through sleep training and they did great, you may have to do it all over again. However, this time it may quicker, slower, easier, or harder.
You may want to try a different method than before because what worked for a 5 month old may not work the same for an 8 month old. At this age, they can be more manipulative and know how to get their way.
Now may be a time that your baby does need the comfort of seeing mom in the middle of the night to reassure him that everything is ok. However, that can sometimes backfire, as well.
After I would come in to comfort my son in the middle of the night, he would cry even harder once I left the room, defeating the purpose of me consoling him.
We then moved to an extinction method of sleep training where I had to just let him cry. This worked much faster.
The key is to not pick them up. You don’t want to get in the habit of feeding, rocking, or holding them to sleep. This just created negative sleep associations that they will always need at bedtime.
If you do enter the room, only come in briefly to reassure them that you’re there. Put your hand on their belly for a few seconds and then leave. Make it short and sweet.
Read my whole post on The Sleep Training Methods that I Used to Get Both of My Babies Sleeping Through The Night for more tips on re-sleep training.
5. “Rip off the band-aid”
Whether it’s at daycare drop-off, visiting grandma’s, or in the middle of the night, try your best not to give in to the cries for attention. Give them a big hug and kiss goodbye and be on your way.
It’s like ripping off the band-aid quickly. Make a quick exit and don’t give them a lot of consoling.
If you hear that they do fine a couple minutes after you leave, this is the right approach.
6. Out of sight, out of mind
If your baby is seeing you, but not being held by you, they may have a harder time. Try to remove yourself from their sight if they are with a caregiver or you just need to get some things done.
This may help them to better explore the environment on their own and get a sense of independence without you. Make sure they have a favorite toy or stuffed animal with them, as well.
7. Be patient and consistent
This phase will pass, as they all do, but you just have to make it through. Comfort your child when needed, but be consistent in your approach.
You can’t hold them all day because they’re crying for you, but then expect them to put themselves to sleep on their own at night. So if you want them to self-soothe at night, give them that time to do it during the day, as well.
8. Familiarize them with others or the new environment
Depending on the time or place that your baby is having an issue with, get them familiar with the person or place that’s causing the problem.
If they freak out every time they see the babysitter or grandma, try to spend time together before you leave. Provide more opportunities for them to see those people when you’re not leaving and can all spend time together.
If they get upset when you walk up to the daycare, hang out there and play with them there. Show them that it’s not a bad place and that you can spend time there, as well.
Is this a permanent condition?
No, this separation anxiety that is occurring in your baby at this age is not indicative of any issues they will experience down the road. It’s a typical developmental stage that most babies will go through.
I know as parents we tend to see into the future and may get nervous as to what we will see in our children as they get older. If you’re envisioning your child screaming and crying as you send them off to college, you have nothing to worry about!
Tell me about your experiences in the comments below or let me know if any of these tips worked for you!
Again, read my post on The Sleep Training Methods that I Used to Get Both of My Babies Sleeping Through The Night for more tips on re-sleep training.