Ever since you had your baby, are you afraid to leave her with another caregiver?
If your answer is yes, you’re not alone. Many moms are nervous to return to work—or even leave the home for a few minutes—in fear that something terrible could happen to their baby.
To an extent, fear is natural. It means we have a healthy bond and that we care. However, if we let the anxiety take over, time spent away can feel like misery.
In this post, we’re talking about what maternal separation anxiety is and what you can do to feel more confident when you’re away.
What is Maternal Separation Anxiety?
You may be familiar with separation anxiety because it’s common in babies. When you leave the home or even put her down to sleep, she can break out in cries, fearing that you’ll never come back. The adult version may not result in a tantrum and is therefore more invisible, but it still exists.
When you leave your baby for work, an overnight trip—or maybe just a drive to the grocery store—it can feel difficult. It’s normal to have worries and miss your baby. However, when that separation causes extreme anxiety, it’s called maternal separation anxiety.
Signs of Separation Anxiety in Mothers
If you experience any of the following when you’re away from your baby, you may have maternal separation anxiety.
- Guilt (this can be exacerbated if your baby also has separation anxiety and you feel guilty for leaving her crying)
- Physical anxiety symptoms (ex. panic, racing heart, shallow breathing, etc.)
Tips for Parents with Separation Anxiety
Luckily, many of the things you can do to ease your own separation anxiety can also help your baby.
#1 Know That Baby Separation Anxiety is a Stage
If your baby is also experiencing separation anxiety, she’ll likely cry whenever you part from her. If you felt guilty for leaving in the first place, knowing it’s making your baby sad and scared can make you feel even worse. Before looping yourself in the guilt cycle, try to consider the reality: Separation anxiety is a normal stage most babies go through.
Babies understand that when their parents aren’t in sight, it means they’ve gone away. But since they don’t understand time yet, they don’t know that the parents will eventually return. This leads them to cry or throw a tantrum, even if you’re just in the next room. Even though this can be hard to handle, it can be a good sign of a healthy attachment to you. It’s a normal part of development.
On the other side of the coin, parents feeling separation anxiety is also a sign that their attachment system is working well. Of course, extreme anxiety isn’t beneficial; however, not wanting to leave your baby means that there’s a healthy mother-child bond.
There’s another reason not to feel guilty: If you give into the guilt, your child won’t learn to overcome the anxiety. For example, if you run back into the room or refuse to leave when she cries, she will continue to use that trick to get you back every time. Giving her space helps her become less fearful of the world around her.
#2 Slowly Increase Separation
If possible, try to build out time to slowly increase separation. For example, if you know you need to return to work in the next two months, schedule times to leave the baby with another family member. Slowly increase that time each outing, working up to how long you’re usually gone for on a workday. Try to leave your child with the same person each time. This will help your baby become familiar and comfortable—but it will also help you feel safe leaving her.
#3 Spend Time with the Babysitter
If you’ll be leaving your child with a babysitter instead of a family member, give yourself time to find, meet and get comfortable with them.
Leaving the most precious person in your life in the care of a stranger can be anxiety-inducing—and for good reasons. How can you be sure that person has the skills to care for your baby? How can you be sure nothing will go wrong?
One way to calm your nerves is to interview multiple babysitters to ensure you’re choosing the best one for you. Then, after you’ve selected one, be present for the first few times. Allow yourself, the babysitter and your baby to hang out and get comfortable with each other. After a while, leave the room to do some chores and return, increasing your time away each interval. Building your trust with the babysitter in this way can help boost confidence that your baby will be fine in their care.
#4 You Need Time for Yourself
During the first months, you’re busy 24/7 changing diapers, nursing, rocking, etc. Although that’s understandable, you’ll eventually need to start integrating yourself back into your own life. Even though things have completely changed with a new baby, you’re still your own person. It’s important to engage in other areas of life—such as friends, your relationship, career, hobbies, etc.
If you plan on being a stay-at-home mother, you still need to carve out time for yourself. Even though you love your baby, not taking a break can lead to stress, depression and fatigue. Starting out parenthood with an appreciation for self-care is a good message to send to your child too. A break could simply be a short walk or time away to work on a hobby. It could also be something bigger like a spa day or night out with friends. Even if it makes you feel anxious, balancing your life as a mother with your life as an individual can prevent overwhelm and get easier each time. Keeping busy can also help your mind stay off the anxiety.
#5 List Your Fears
If you get anxious leaving your baby with another caregiver, you probably have a bunch of fears floating around in your head. One way of reducing that feeling could be to pinpoint and analyze each thought.
Start by listing down each fear or thought in the left column on a piece of paper. Then, in the right column, brainstorm the reality of the situation and if there’s any ways you can minimize that fear. It may be helpful to do this with a trusted friend, your partner or someone who can give you a wider perspective.
For example, maybe your fear is that the babysitter will fail and something bad will happen to your child. Think about the reality of it: How likely is that? What experience and skills does the babysitter have that contradict that thought? Did the babysitter interact well with the baby when they met? Other times, it may be helpful to brainstorm how you can minimize that feeling. For example, could you find a babysitter you’re more comfortable with? Could you choose someone with more experience? Could you call/text during the first few sessions to assure yourself everything is okay?
On the other hand, maybe your fears are more deeply rooted. For example, if a parent left you and never came back, attachment and separation issues can be expected. Another example could be a woman who has had several miscarriages. After so much loss, it may feel unnatural to “let go” of something you spent so long trying to have. You may fear that walking away from your baby will mean another permanent loss. Realizing the roots of these issues and how they don’t apply to today can be a powerful first step.
Mindfulness is the practice of focusing on the present moment. While you can’t necessarily stop thoughts of the past or future, you can let them pass by without spending too much time on them. What this does is allow you to focus on the reality: You’re okay right now and so is your baby.
Although it’s a simple concept, it can be hard to practice, especially if you usually have a monkey mind. At first, you may be constantly reminding yourself and feel frustrated over drifting thoughts. However, over time, it will feel more natural and your anxiety levels can begin to decrease. To read more about what mindfulness is, read our full guide.
Mindfulness is learned through one or several practices done regularly. Here’s 9 Super Easy Mindfulness Exercises to Make You Feel Calmer.
#7 Talk to a Trusted Person About It
Sometimes, simply having a listening ear to express your concerns to can help. For example, if you’re having a tough time at work and you have a trusted coworker, try expressing your concerns. They will likely reassure you, which can make the worry dissipate a bit.
You can simply say something like, “I don’t need advice or anything but I’m having a lot of anxiety leaving the baby and I feel like I need to talk to someone about it.” Starting the conversation off with that disclosure should prevent any unwanted advice or judgment from seeping through.
If you can, you should also try having open-ended conversations about it with your partner. Being able to confide in each other over parenting concerns can improve both of your stress levels.
If you can’t manage your separation anxiety and feel unable to leave the home, you should contact your doctor or a therapist. While being nervous is normal, having panic attacks is not. A therapist can listen to your concerns and develop a treatment plan to help you move past your fear.
Similar to babies, parents can also experience separation anxiety. Maternal separation anxiety can be marked by guilt, sadness and anxiety symptoms when parting with your baby. If you have a healthy attachment to your baby, some of this can be normal. However, if you’re unable to manage your feelings or symptoms, you should try using the tips above. If they don’t help, you should contact your doctor or a therapist.
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