Separation anxiety

baby penguin

In postnatal yoga class, with babies currently ranging from 6-12 months old, we have been talking about separation anxiety. It’s commonly experienced as early as 7 months old, and peaks around 10-18 months — with people outside of the family and with going away from and coming back to the “source of security,” a.k.a mama.

Around 7 to 9 months old, baby starts to understand he is independent from mama. This is a “milestone” even though it can make baby anxious. He is so attached (which is perfectly natural and healthy) that leaving for even a minute can be upsetting; he doesn’t understand yet that you will be back. Sneaking out when baby isn’t looking doesn’t help — it also risks breaking the practice of honesty and openness with your child. When you have to leave, as tough as it is, say bye-bye while he is watching.

Separation can be stressful for mama too: worrying if baby will be ok, full breasts, the psychic connection, feelings of guilt for leaving baby. Little by little, your baby and you will experience more and more separation, whether for minutes, hours or days as life goes on.

A practice called “bridging” by child development expert Gordon Neufeld is about literally bridging the physical separation with the promise of when you will be back. For the younger baby who may not understand yet, it can be harder to do, but you are practicing this honesty with baby and over time she will understand your loving vibe and promise of your return. The older baby and toddler can understand this more: Mommy is going bye-bye, and I will see you after lunch and nap time.

You can help your child during this stage (that can come and go or vary over the course of several months) by:

  • minimizing separation as much as possible
  • leaving baby with people he already knows
  • letting baby get to know a new caregiver while you’re around

Here is an excerpt from Raising Our Children, Raising Ourselves by Naomi Aldort, a book I have found to be so helpful. It’s well dog-eared and often on hand around here. Let me know what has been working for you and your baby too.

When separation is unavoidable, our task is not to distract the child from her feelings, but rather to validate her experience so she can cry fully and recognize the validity of her experiences. Likewise, upon returning from being away and facing a furious child, you need not attempt to stop her expression or to offer her a gift to placate her; you need only validate, show her you care, and express your own longing and love by mostly just holding and listening. Your child will recover from the agony of separation by crying and/or by expressing her fears and frustrations with your validating attention and love. Your unwavering support will pass on to her the message that she is perfectly capable of going through this experience.


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