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How do I know if my baby has separation anxiety?

How do I know if my baby has separation anxiety? According to Registered Nurse, Midwife and Maternal and Child Health Nurse, Helen Stevens, there will be many parents who have a similar story; that is, a baby suddenly starting to wake or be super clingy at around 7 months. For some babies we see it at 6 months, but most are showing the signs around 7-8 month of age. This is a developmental shift called ‘separation anxiety’ or ‘object permanence’.

In one way it is good because you know your baby is progressing socially as they should however, it is exhausting and often frustrating for all involved.

This developmental shift happens when baby is learning that there is a world beyond what they see. Up until now, your baby’s world has primarily been ‘everything I see – is all there is’ and ‘what isn’t seen doesn’t exist’.

Your baby is now learning that when you are not around, they are alone and they fret about being separated from you. What we then see is a baby showing their distress through behaviours that will bring you back to them so they feel secure and safe again, commonly called ‘attachment behaviours’.

Sleep time is a classic separation that babies may find difficult and call out for frequent reassurance and care. Don’t panic, this won’t last forever, especially if you provide them comforting and don’t expect them to manage alone.

This is certainly NOT a time to think about any form of sleep training because they NEED to know you will come, so they can relax and call for you less.

If you try to make your ‘clingy’ baby independent at this stage of their development, it may backfire and your efforts may reinforce that the world without you is scary, so your baby will develop clinging and crying behaviours in a much stronger way; because they are uncertain of your availability.

Distress on separation is completely normal at this age, so make sure you eat well and keep up your own water intake to be sure you are able to provide care and comfort for your baby while they need you during this time.

Read your baby; if they need a cuddle, offer it freely, if they don’t, just let them be. This can be a tough time for you and your baby, but remember it is a phase and they really need reassurance, once calm, you can leave them. If it doesn’t pass, be sure you speak with your maternal child and family health nurse to discuss ways of helping your baby to reestablish those lovely sleep patterns that you (and your baby) so miss!

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