When my son was younger, we were fortunate enough to have a wonderful babysitter who would watch him about once a week. He always loved when she came to play with him. So imagine my surprise one day when he had an outburst as she walked in the door. Screaming, crying, calling “mamma, mamma;” I was stunned. At first I thought he may be sick. I told the sitter that I was leaving, but if he continued to cry, call me. I walked out the door and down the stairs to leave and he had stopped crying before I reached the bottom. I just had to start laughing—at both of us. That was the start of separation anxiety in our house. For the next few months, this would occur almost every time I left —sometimes when I even just went to the bathroom. The bad news about separation anxiety is it can be very hard, on both you and your baby. The good news though: it is completely normal and it does not last forever.
Separation anxiety is actually a social and emotional developmental milestone. It means that your baby recognizes that there is only one you. And when you are out of her sight, she realizes that you are somewhere else, and not with her. This can be very upsetting for her. Also, she has no sense of time. So she doesn’t understand if you go into the next room to grab the laundry that you will be back in 30 seconds. To her, it may mean you are never coming back. Even bedtime can become a challenge as she doesn’t want you to leave the room. She may wake more frequently at night crying for you too.
Separation anxiety peaks between about 10-18 months and then fades during the last half of the second year. This can be a time of mixed emotions for many moms. It is wonderful to have your little one throw herself into your arms and realize just how much she loves you. On the other hand, it can be trying because you may feel guilty for leaving her and even a bit suffocated by her constant clinging.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, the best thing you can do is ride it out. Also, downplay your leaving as much as possible. Have the person you are leaving her with create a distraction of some sort. Then say good-bye and slip away quickly. Her tears will subside within minutes of your departure. You can also help her learn to cope with separation through short practice sessions. If she initiates a separation, by crawling into another room for example, don’t follow her right away (as long as you know she is safe). Wait a minute or two and then go. If she fusses, call to her instead of immediately running to her. This will allow her to realize that nothing terrible happens when you are gone and more importantly, you will always come back.