Separation Anxiety: It Goes Both Ways

Separation Anxiety: It Goes Both Ways


Separation anxiety in babies can be distressing for both baby and mum. Understand why it happens and learn to make things easier for both of you.

Your baby is now around four months old and you are getting ready for work. You kiss your little one goodbye and hand her over to your helper. You watch in dismay as your baby bursts into tears and reaches for you. You are thrown with a flood of emotions: guilt, anxiety, sadness.  

Separation anxiety in babies can be very distressing for both parents and baby. It refers to the intense anxiety some little ones experience when their parents (especially mum) try to leave them with another caregiver. However, you should know that separation anxiety is a normal part of development – there are valid reasons for it, and ways to handle it so that it is less stressful for both baby and parents.

Separation anxiety in babies: Through baby’s lens

You’ve probably played peek-a-boo with your baby before and noticed that as you cover your face with your hands, your baby might have looked worried or even started to cry. When you revealed your face again, your baby probably smiled and looked relieved to know you were still there. Your baby’s behaviour here is linked to learning about “object permanence.”

As babies approach seven or eight months, they start to understand that things and people exist even when they cannot be seen. However, since they don’t understand the concept of time yet, they don’t know when you will be back when you are away – regardless if it is to the bathroom or office for work. This can cause some babies to experience anxiety that might intensify between the ages of eight and 12 months.1

Not all babies get separation anxiety and how long it lasts in those who do depends on the child’s temperament and how the parents handle it. For some children, separation anxiety may even last into their preschool or primary school years.1

Separation anxiety through mummy’s lens

Separation anxiety in babies can be very stressful for mothers and leave you with mixed emotions. It is a perfectly normal part of your child’s development and the signs of a wonderful mother-child relationship based on love and bonding. On the other hand, seeing your child so distressed can leave you quite upset. You may feel guilty about taking time for yourself or returning to work. You might feel frustrated and overwhelmed at your baby’s seemingly constant need for you. And you might feel unbearable sadness to seeing your child’s distress. Ultimately, you should remember that this is just a phase and it will pass, as difficult as separation anxiety is for both of you.

How to manage separation anxiety in babies

It can be challenging for both baby and mum to deal with separation anxiety but there are some steps you can take to make things easier for both. 2

  • Practice being away from your baby especially if you know that you’ll be heading back to work. Starting with very short periods of being apart, you might want to invite the caregiver home to spend time with your child while you are away to take a shower or drink a cup of tea.
  • Go through your goodbye and “Mummy’s back!” routines during this time, make sure you say goodbye with a big smile on your face and reassurance that you will be back.
  • Do your best not to start Child Care or hire a new helper during the age that separation anxiety peaks – between eight and 12 months. If you know that you will be returning to work while you are pregnant and are thinking of employing a helper, it’s best to do this while your baby is a newborn. This helps your child bond with the other caregiver, meaning that leaving your little one to go to work or run errands will be much easier. 

All in all, separation anxiety is a challenge that both mother and child have to deal with. Just keep in mind that it’s an essential part of development and serves as an important milestone in your special journey of motherhood.

1 KidsHealth. Separation Anxiety. Accessed on 28th February, 2022 from
2 Swanson, S. How to ease your child’s separation anxiety. Accessed on 28th February, 2022 from

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