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Anxiety and Stress Disorders (Children)

Separation Anxiety and Babies

04/26/2006

Question:

I have been watching my 8 month old nephew 5 days a week for the past 6 weeks. He cries very hard if I put him down in the floor, play pen, or baby seat. He wants to be held at all times and I have to lay down with him until he falls asleep or take him for a car ride. He is afraid of my husband and will scream even louder if he comes in the room and I`m not holding him. His mom says she doesn`t see this kind of behavior at home. Is it possible for a 8 month old baby to have anxiety disorder or is this normal seperation anxiety? It has been going on for the entire six weeks and seems to be getting worse. Can you please clear this up for me?

Answer:

Although many things can make a baby cry like this (for example, stomach distress from a change in water used to mix formula), your description makes it sound like simple separation anxiety. This is the prime time for separation anxiety, which is a normal stage of infant development.  We think that it occurs because the infant's brain has now developed enough to differentiate between the key attachment figures (usually mother and father) and others.  The feelings and sensations that are associated with being cared for by the mother or father are not present at first with other people and the infant cries.  Some infants feel the "loss" of the mother or father more intensely or suffer for longer periods of time than others.

Ask his mother to bring you some items that he sleeps with at home or that he finds soothing.  For example, a blanket, stuffed animal, or even put a sheet from home on the crib you provide.  He may smell or touch these things and feel comforted.  Also ask his mother how she soothes him at home.  Different infants like different things.  Some like rocking, others like being cried in a Snuggle apparatus, others like listening to music or driving in the car. Use whatever methods his parents use.

And finally, do try to see if there is a pattern to it.  It is remotely
possible that there is a difference in diet, water, or noise level in
your house, compared to his parents' house and that this may be making him uncomfortable.

For more information:

Go to the Anxiety and Stress Disorders (Children) health topic, where you can:

Response by:

Kathleen A Pajer, MD
Associate Professor of Pediatrics and Epidemiology
College of Medicine
The Ohio State University