Separation Anxiety - Clingy babies

August 12, 2010, 4:43 pm Pinky McKay practicalparenting

Separation anxiety is common in babies, but a clingy bub can be tiring for Mum. Pinky McKay shows you how best to cope

PP Clingy Babies
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My five-month-old is always super-glued to me,” says Antoinette. “She screams if anybody else holds her and if I dare to leave the room she gets hysterical! She is my third baby so, even though there are days when I just want to run from the room screaming, ‘LEAVE ME ALONE!’ I know this phase will pass. But I am sick of everyone telling me I am spoiling her or that I should just let her cry and she will get over it.

If, like Antoinette, you have a ‘velcro baby’, please be reassured that your baby’s clingy behaviour is not your fault – you’re simply responding to the baby you have. Although it can be stressful to contend with a sensitive baby who wants to be constantly held, especially if she only wants to be held by you, it can help to see things from your baby’s perspective. US paediatrician Dr William Sears says, “In babies’ minds, Mother is a part of themselves and they are part of Mother. Mother and baby are one, a complete package. These babies feel anxious and frightened when not with Mother. These emotions are normal feelings inside a little person who knows he needs the presence of his mother to thrive and to feel complete.”

Clingy times
Most babies go through clingy phases and these are often due to developmental changes. For instance, newborns depend on close contact to adapt to the world outside the womb. Carrying your baby will not only help him feel secure but will also regulate his immature heartbeat, rhythmic movements and respiration, helping

to balance irregular waking, sleeping and feeding rhythms.

As they grow, it is common for babies to become clingy at significant developmental stages and, just as babies have physical growth spurts, they also achieve neurological milestones such as being able to perceive distance, which typically happens at around 25 weeks. This may result in clinginess as baby realises, ‘Mummy is moving away from me’. Studies show marked increases in brain development as babies reach these new milestones. According to Dutch researcher Professor Frans Plooij, author of The Wonder Weeks (www.thewonderweeks.com), although calmer babies cope with these stages relatively easily, in others, confusion, frustration and anxiety may make them so unsettled they cling to the only safety and security they know – you!

Getting attached
At around six months of age, your baby may begin an important emotional developmental process known as ‘separation anxiety’, which means your bub now realises you are a separate being. Because babies don’t have any concept of constancy (when you disappear, they think you don’t exist) this phase commonly lasts up to two years until they can understand that when you disappear, you will come back. Separation anxiety is part of normal childhood development and shows that your baby has a healthy attachment to you. According to Dr Sears, “Loud separation protests reveal

a capacity for forming deep attachments – if they didn’t care deeply, they wouldn’t fuss so loudly when separated. This capacity is the forerunner of intimacy in adult relationships.”

Sharing the care The best way to deal with your clingy baby is to help her feel secure by holding her, carrying her in a sling where she is protected from poking by strangers and introducing other people gradually. You can hold her as others interact with her, then as she gets used to family members and close friends, let them hold her for short periods with you close by, eventually increasing the distance and separations as she feels comfortable.

If you do need to leave your littlie, leaving an article of your unwashed clothing, such as your dressing gown or a tee-shirt, can be comforting for her while her carer is holding her. It is also important to be honest and say goodbye. It is helpful to have a goodbye ritual and a return greeting so she can learn that although you may leave sometimes, you do come back.

Coping with criticism

If you receive flak about your velcro baby, remember your baby’s needs are more important than your critics’ opinions. You are not spoiling your clingy baby, you are teaching her to love and, all too soon, this behaviour will pass. In a few short years, she’ll be too embarrassed to even kiss you goodbye!

Velcro Baby
As Ali, mum of a toddler, says, “My son was a velcro baby right up until he was two years old. Now he is happy to say goodbye to me and give me a kiss. It was demanding and frustrating at times, especially when everyone

was telling me I was spoiling him and getting him into bad habits. But now he is so well-adjusted, happy and confident. He is a wonderful little man. And I know it is because I just accepted him and went with it.”

Daddy rejection

It is normal for babies and toddlers to favour or be comforted more easily by one parent, usually Mum. This isn’t a rejection of the other parent, though it can seem this way. It is a good idea to gradually encourage time with the parent who isn’t the primary carer – Dad could carry baby in a sling when she is happy or massage her while you hold her, and later, an activity such as bathing could be Dad’s domain. This way, dads become more confident and have an opportunity to bond deeply too.

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