Mother and Baby

5 signs your baby has separation anxiety

You’ve finally got your baby’s sleep routine sorted – but now she’s started waking up and crying for no reason at all. And hates being left alone, too. It’s all very confusing.

Your little one could be suffering from separation anxiety, which is a completely normal development milestone – and shows just how amazing the bond between you and your baby is.

What is separation anxiety? 

It seems to happen overnight. One day your baby is gurgling happily away, not noticing or caring if you’re in the room. The next, he’s crying inconsolably if you so much as step out of his sight. Welcome to separation anxiety, an important, but agonising stage that nearly all babies go through and can start as early as five or six months old.

‘If you can’t even go to the loo without your baby getting upset, you can end up feeling both overwhelmed and suffocated,’ says child psychologist and midwife Ann Herreboudt. ‘From your baby’s point of view, this is how he starts developing independence and learns he is separate from you and can be safe without you.’

When does it most commonly occur?

Separation anxiety usually strikes between the ages of 6 and 12 months. You may have left your baby alone and with others before, but at this stage he is starting to worry when or if, you will return. This will normally all be gone by the time your child is about 2.5 years at the latest.

Does my baby have separation anxiety?

 Here are the key signs to look out for…


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1) Your baby’s sleep is interrupted

It’s really common for a baby with separation anxiety to wake more than usual during the night and cry out for you – even if she was sleeping through until now. ‘This huge developmental change that occurs from roughly from nine to 18 months means that everything changes for babies and they need reassurance, especially at night,’ says sleep expert Sarah Ockwell-Smith. Your baby may also struggle to fall sleep, despite sticking to her usual bath and bedtime routine.

‘Understand that as exhausting as it is, separation anxiety is a good sign, it's a sign of great parenting to date'
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2) Your baby wakes up early

Separation anxiety can cause your baby to wake up early – and struggle to go back to sleep unless he’s with you. ‘Understand that as exhausting as it is, separation anxiety is a good sign, it's a sign of great parenting to date,’ says Sarah. ‘It means your child has a good attachment with you and is a strong psychological sign that they will grow to be confident and independent.’
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3) Your baby cries when left with someone else

You may have difficulty dropping your baby off at the childminders or at nursery, particularly when she’s been OK with this before. This is common with separation anxiety. ‘She may even be unhappy going to other people – even her dad,' says Sarah.

‘Try wearing an essential oil as a perfume and after four to six weeks encourage others to wear the same or use it in a diffuser around yours and their homes,’ Sarah suggest. ‘Your baby may associate the scent with you and may feel calmed by it when you aren’t there.’
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4) Your baby gets upset when left alone

Popped to the loo and your baby started screaming? Signs of separation anxiety don’t appear solely at night – something you may have picked up on. ‘Baby’s with separation anxiety are often unhappy to be alone during the day, even if only for a minute or two,’ says Sarah. ‘Don't try to force independence. It won’t help your baby if you leave them alone for any length of time at this age.’

You may notice that your tot isn’t just upset when you’re not around but will demand to be held more and generally be a lot clingier.

Read more: How to help your toddler manage their emotions
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5) Your baby hates playing alone

If your little one suddenly goes off her favourite toys, don’t despair – it’s another really common sign of separation anxiety. ‘You may find she’s no longer happy to play alone, even with toys that she previously loved,’ says Sarah. She’ll probably want you to play with her, which can be time-consuming for you but is a great way to reassure her that you’re not going anywhere.

Now you know all about the signs of separation anxiety, get clued up on the how you can help your little one overcome it. And don’t panic – it’s not as difficult as you may think.

‘Above all else remember “this too will pass”,’ says Sarah. ‘Separation anxiety is a normal developmental stage, but it is also transient and within a few months things will naturally get easier without you actually doing anything special.’

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