When your baby first comes home, he does not have a sense of self. In a nutshell, he thinks that you are he and he is you. He smiles at the feet and hands he sees waving without realizing that they’re his. As your baby grows and becomes more aware, he gradually begins to figure out that he’s his own little person with his own body, his own emotions, and his own thoughts. And he finally understands that you are his mommy and daddy (exciting!) and are the ones who care for him. When this happens, your baby may become anxious when another person (even grandma!) tries to hold him. This is actually a good sign!
Frustrating though it may be when grandma visits and wants to hold her grandchild, only to have him meltdown in her arms, your baby is showing you that he understands the difference between mommy and everybody else. Many people confuse stranger anxiety and separation anxiety, and while they are similar, separation anxiety doesn’t normally begin to occur until around 6 or 7 months, and tends to come and go in waves; however stranger anxiety may begin as early as 5 months of age.
Stranger anxiety is a great sign that you and your newborn are bonding. Your baby knows the difference between you and a stranger, and he prefers you! You may notice that your baby becomes more clingy and anxious when faced with ‘strangers’, even if they’re familiar faces like your next door neighbor or even grandma.
There are a few things that you can do to help your baby be comfortable with new visitors and caregivers.
Your baby is learning social cues from you, so make sure that you demonstrate how much you like and trust this new person before you hand your baby over to be held.
If your baby has a meltdown while someone is holding her, don’t get upset. Apologize, explaining that your baby is currently experiencing some stranger anxiety, and calmly take your baby back into your arms to soothe him.
Take Extra Time
The first time you leave your baby with a new caregiver, take a few extra minutes to play with your baby and the new caregiver. This allows your baby some time to adjust to this new person before you dash out the door.
Give Fair Warning
If you know that your newborn is currently experiencing stranger anxiety, warn family and friends who may want to come visit that they will need to be accommodating and may not be able to hold your baby as much as they would like.
Always Say Goodbye
Your baby may not be able to speak yet, but that doesn’t mean that he doesn’t understand that you’re leaving. Saying goodbye, and reassuring him that mommy (or daddy) will be back helps build trust, even at this early stage. When you do leave, make sure that you leave quickly to avoid triggering a meltdown.
It may take your baby awhile to adjust to a new person or new environment, so make sure that you are persistent. Eventually, he will know that this person loves and cares for him, too.
The absolute best thing that you can do for your baby is to continue to help him meet new people and have new experiences so that he can get used to being around people besides mom and dad. Stranger anxiety is usually short-lived, so have patience and be persistent.
Do you have a newborn or baby under 6 months that is currently experiencing stranger anxiety? Check out Gentle Baby Solutions for help with your newborn’s development and get tips to help soothe your crying baby.