Separation anxiety is a very common issue that affects many babies. It's an entirely normal part of their emotional development, and is actually considered a good sign that your baby is developing a secure attachment to you. Regardless of that silver lining, it can still be distressing, and cause problems for your little one and for yourself!
In this article, we'll go over what separation anxiety typically looks like, and we'll also investigate what tends to be the cause of separation anxiety in young babies 6-9 months old - their newly developing sense of object permanence.
To help you out, we'll also list some useful tips to aid you in dealing with your baby's anxiety, as well as letting you know when it might be time to get support from a healthcare professional.
In this article:
Separation anxiety - what you and your baby might be experiencing
If your little one is going through a stage of separation anxiety, they'll probably get very upset and clingy when you try to leave them. This can be when you leave them alone, or with other caregivers - either way, your baby will let you know they aren't happy with the situation!
It's also likely that neither you or your baby will be getting a great night's sleep. Babies suffering from separation anxiety may have a hard time sleeping through the night, even if they've had no trouble sleeping in the past. They might wake up and cry because you're not there, and might even refuse to sleep at all without you nearby.
What causes separation anxiety?
Once babies reach around 6 months old, they begin to develop a sense of object permanence - essentially, they learn that things such as people and objects still exist even when they can't be seen.
The issue with this new understanding of object permanence is that they don't know when you'll return to them. This uncertainty is why your little one may cry and scream when you try to leave for work, or even when you go into another room!
Separation anxiety can begin when a baby is as young as 4 months old, but generally babies won't show symptoms of more robust separation anxiety until they are between 6 and 9 months, as this is commonly when their sense of object permanence starts to develop.
However, some children might have separation anxiety start to affect them when they reach toddlerhood and their independence further increases. In fact, separation anxiety can actually peak between 12 and 18 months.
How long does separation anxiety last in babies 6-9 months?
The length of time a bout of separation anxiety lasts can differ between children. However, it typically clears up after around three weeks. Some babies will experience separation anxiety at multiple times throughout their early childhood development. This is completely normal, and most babies will grow out of it by the time they are around three years old.
What you can do about separation anxiety
If your little one is struggling, there are a variety of things you can do to help them handle separation anxiety. Let's get into them!
Start brief, and build to longer separations
It can be a good idea to start off by keeping separations brief, with familiar people such as family members, in familiar environments, if at all possible. You could even start just by leaving the room as long as your baby can be left in a safe place. From here, start to gradually increase the amount of time you are gone, and leave your little one with more unfamiliar people.
Setting aside some time for your baby to get more used to unfamiliar people such as daycare center workers and even unfamiliar family members can also help them feel more secure when you're not around.
Play peek a boo
Games such as peek a boo, and hide and seek once they get older, can be a very useful way of allowing babies to experience separations in a way which is fun as well as safe. Games like this are brilliant as they remind your little one that you'll always return to them, and that separations don't have to be scary and stressful.
Use their independence to your advantage
During this stage of their life, your little one might be able to crawl - or at least they might have started trying! Embracing this new step in their independence by letting them crawl somewhere safe without you - given that they're still under supervision of course - can be a great method of allowing them to increase their confidence in being alone, which can help them feel secure in themselves, and feel calmer when you are not around.
Be clever about when you leave
Not everyone can choose when they have to leave their little one, but if you can, try to leave them at a strategic time, such as after they've eaten, or after they've had a nap. This ensures that they aren't hungry or tired, which is good thing, as hungry and or tired babies can get restless and stressed out!
Oh, and this may seem obvious, but if your baby is sleeping, don't sneak out! If they wake up to find you gone, chances are it'll only make their separation anxiety worse!
Keep goodbyes quick
It can be so hard to leave when your little one is upset, but lingering too long can give them a false sense of security, so it's important to keep your goodbyes brief and straightforward. That's not to say you shouldn't comfort them, just don't hang around for too long!
Additionally, acting positive when you leave, even if you're feeling similar nerves to your little one, is vital. Stay calm, as babies will pick up your own anxiety, which will only make them more upset!
Consistency is key
As babies grow, their sense of routine improves dramatically - which is why keeping their days consistent can be really beneficial, as the stability can reduce stress and help keep them calm. There are many ways to bring consistency to your baby's life - leaving them and returning at the same predictable time each day is just one of them. You could also try coming up with a ritual for goodbyes, or introducing a bedtime routine to help them relax and wind down before they sleep.
If you do choose to follow a bedtime routine, we would recommend incorporating dressing your little one in our Zen Sleepwear, as it is designed to help them self-soothe. Why not try out our Zen Sack™ Classic - it's gently and safely weighted to mimic your soothing touch, helping them fall asleep on their own!
Mom hack - don't feel guilty!
Here's some advice from Emma's Diary on why you shouldn't feel guilty if your baby is struggling with separation anxiety:
"Don’t feel guilty – You must not beat yourself up about baby separation anxiety. It is perfectly normal and a sign of the strong and healthy relationship you have with your little one, so you have absolutely nothing to feel guilty about. It will not last forever, and soon you’ll be dropping your baby off at nursery – or for an hour or so with a friend – without any tears or crying."
When to seek support for your baby's separation anxiety
You should contact a pediatrician or doctor if your child's separation anxiety persists for longer than what is usually expected for their age, or if their anxiety is intense, excessive, and interrupting their daily life.
If your little one is experiencing excessive anxiety over an extended period of time, there's a chance they might be showing signs of separation anxiety disorder. Other symptoms of separation anxiety disorder include physical symptoms such as headaches and tummy aches, as well as panic attacks.
Separation anxiety is very common, and is rarely something more serious such as separation anxiety disorder. Many babies go through a period of separation anxiety at some point in their early childhood, and most outgrow it by the time they are three.
At any rate, you should contact a pediatrician, doctor, or other healthcare professional for support if you have any concerns about your little one.
Separation anxiety in babies 6-9 months - common questions