Separation anxiety at 4-7 months: Tips to help baby attach to a new caregiver
It's always tough leaving your baby alone for the first time for more than a few minutes, but if you're returning to work or starting to get out more again without baby, it's something you'll both get used to over time.
However, if your baby is struggling to handle not having their primary caregiver around, this transition can be more tricky! Don't worry though - we have some tips to help your baby get settled with a new caregiver, which will help with your child's emotional development in the future.
In this article:
Your baby won't attach to caregivers or sitters: What's going on?
In many ways, the effects on your baby when they are separated from their primary caregiver can be very flattering - after all, it means they have a positive and loving attachment to you and always want you around! However, in the long term, this isn't practical for you or baby, and won't help them develop into an independent young child in the future.
Your baby's emotional dependence on you can be looked at in terms of attachment theory. Attachment theory - established within research into child development - says that you are the primary attachment figure, and have become the main attachment figure based on three factors: continuity, stability, and mutuality. Basically, you're always there to provide a safe home, look after them every day, and remind baby how much you love them!
Your infant's attachment is definitely not a bad thing - in fact, it's vital in many ways for developing good physical and mental health. But it can prove tricky when your baby has gotten used to you being the primary caregiver (usually by the two month mark), only for someone else to come in sometimes to take care of them.
This can lead to your baby becoming upset, crying when they realise you're leaving and being fussy for the new nanny or sitter. Obviously, the subsequent guilt you might feel isn't good for your mental health either - you both deserve to spend time apart without feeling sad!
Object permanence: How it makes attaching to new caregivers harder
When your baby is around 7 months old, but often earlier than this, they'll develop object permanence - this is the ability to picture you in their head and remember that you exist even when you aren't there in front of them.
This can make leaving them even tougher as the primary caregiver, as they can now recognise when you're gone, and they can't know for sure when - or if - you're coming back.
Therefore, when you're presenting them with a new person that you want them to develop a secure attachment bond with, they'll likely be reminded of you - and want you back!
Attaching to caregivers: How to ease the transition
Luckily, there are a few things that you and the new caregiver can do to help make this transition smoother - for everyone involved.
What you can do as the primary attachment figure
Practice leaving - If you're going back to work or taking part in something else beyond the house that means you'll be leaving on a regular basis, try having some practice runs first! You can start as small as you want - even just going out of the room but remaining within earshot can help baby feel more comfortable when their primary attachment figure isn't right there. Not only will this make the real thing less difficult for you, but it will also help reinforce to baby that no matter how long you leave for, you're always coming back.
Extend departure times/overlap with caregiver - If you're wanting your baby to make a secure attachment with a new caregiver, being there at the same time as them can help baby understand that they aren't a total stranger! By spending some time with both baby and the new caregiver before you leave, for instance while feeding or changing baby, the shared exposure will make them feel more comfortable when you do eventually leave.
Keep goodbyes brief - Although having some overlap in the time that you and the caregiver spend with your baby is useful, don't spend too long saying goodbye to baby, as this just risks upsetting them further and making your absence seem like a bigger deal than it needs to be. Just a quick hug, kiss and goodbye can stop associations in the future with long goodbyes and rituals that may, in the long run, be doing more harm than good.
Be consistent in departure/return times - Consistency is key when it comes to soothing your baby - and especially when you're trying to ensure a secure attachment relationship with a new caregiver. Part of this consistency can be found in departure and return times. Though they won't be reading a clock until they're a young child, babies develop a sense of time at around 6 months, and making sure they know when you're leaving and coming back can help reassure them when with a different caregiver.
Provide caregiver with strict schedule and the right products - This consistency advice also applies to your caregiver and what they get up to when you're out of the house. If you supply them with a schedule to follow, your baby can know what to expect from them and begin to build a secure attachment bond with them. Specialised sleepwear can also be a great tool to calm baby when you're gone - our Zen Sleepwear range is gently weighted to mimic your touch, so baby can feel reminded of their secure attachment to you even when you aren't right there to hold them.
What your caregiver can do
Stick to the schedule - A schedule from you will only be useful if the caregiver actually follows it, so make sure you explain it to them thoroughly so they understand what they should be doing and at what time.
Be dependable - This goes hand in hand with closely following a schedule - a secure attachment bond can only be formed if the baby feels as though they can rely upon you. Remember the three elements of consistency, stability and mutuality that baby has built up with you, and make sure this is the case when it comes to care from another person.
Be attentive to baby's needs - Again, a baby can't make a secure attachment bond if they don't feel as though their physical and emotional needs are being tended to! To be a caregiver, you need to literally give care to the baby - and a good nanny or sitter will know that this is the only way to establish a positive relationship, and prevent insecure attachment.
Play games like peek a boo - Not only is a game of peek a boo adorable to play with a baby, but it actually can help them further develop their sense of object permanence! This is because it gently reinforces that just because you're temporarily hidden doesn't mean that you won't come back - for a baby's nanny or her primary caregiver, this is a great tool for helping them form and strengthen an attachment relationship.
Use Zen Sleepwear - Our range of Zen Sleepwear is great for soothing babies, whether you're one of the primary caregivers or only now going through a caregiver attachment process. The Zen Swaddle is perfect for babies who haven't begun to roll over yet, while the Zen Sack can be used for babies that are starting to be more mobile. Both are gently weighted to imitate your calming touch - perfect for teaching them to self soothe when you aren't around.
Common questions about attaching to new caregivers
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