Your baby, until the age of six months or so, will usually be content with being held by relatives and family friends. She may even smile and play when you place her in someone else’s arms.
But between seven and nine months, she’ll begin to resist people other than you and may cry when someone else is playful with her or reach for you when someone else tries to hold her. During this stage, your baby may even feel anxious about her grandparents and familiar babysitters.
Such reactions, which are a normal part of a baby’s development, result from her growing awareness of the world. Your baby recognizes you as special and different, and views you with pleasure. Because she has good feelings about you, she wants to be with you and isn’t as comfortable with other people.
Also, babies believe that something exists only as long as they can see it. Therefore, when you walk out of sight, your baby may feel anxious and cry. When she’s back in your arms, she feels happy and safe.
This developmental stage can be difficult because it sometimes causes embarrassment and makes it hard to accept help with child care. A relative or friend, offering to care for your baby, may feel rejected by your baby’s anxious cries. Some adults blame the parents, saying, “You’ve spoiled her by holding her so much!”
When your baby enters this developmental stage, it’s helpful to remember that anxiety about strangers and separation is normal. It isn’t necessary to force her to go to other people, she’ll soon do that willingly. Just try to meet her needs, and if you need to, have others talk to her and play with her while you hold her. You can explain to people that, while you understand their feelings of frustration and rejection, you know that your baby is acting as most babies her age do.
During this stage, many babies have trouble separating from their parents at day care or when a babysitter comes. Explain the situation to your caregiver, and let her know that your baby may need extra holding and comforting. If your baby cries as you go, you also may find it hard to separate. Have your caregiver try to distract her. Call shortly after leaving to make sure that all is going well.
At times you might be tempted to leave while your baby is distracted and unaware that you’re going. While this eliminates the initial rush of tears, she may react with surprise and fear when she discovers you’ve left. It’s always better to say a quick good-bye. You’ll know that your baby’s fear of strangers and separation is lessening when you see her reach for someone other than you, and when you see her go happily to someone who’s reaching for her. As this stage passes, she’ll once again feel more comfortable and content with others.