Separation anxiety is something that I struggled with and still do struggle with from time to time, and I don’t think it’s talked about often enough. People are often misled by the idea that only babies suffer from separation anxiety, but mum’s very much do too.

Following the birth of my son in 2021, I really struggled to let anyone hold or touch him, and if I did because I didn’t want to upset anyone. I was so anxious the whole time I would make an excuse for needing him back. This was never to do with not trusting the person holding him, although I do think being pregnant and having a baby during a global pandemic certainly plays its part here.

A Mum kneeling and hugging her baby close, both looking away from the camera

People are often misled by the idea that only babies suffer from separation anxiety, but mums can too.

Once it dawned on me that my return to work was on the horizon and I was going to have to leave him, I was so anxious about anyone looking after him other than me. The fact that I breastfed for 14 months also meant that he had never been far away from me as it just wasn’t an option.

My mum helped me to start off 30 mins at a time to start off with and very slowly built it up. I only started doing this in the March realising that I was going back to work in the May! There is nothing quite like leaving it to the last minute for a little added pressure to spice things up.

I am close to my parents and trust them implicitly, however, I always needed to explain everything he has and what order we do things even to leave him for just 30 mins. My mum was always so patient in just letting me explain so I felt less stressed about it, not like they’ve had 4 kids of their own or anything! The first time I left him I was like a cat on a hot tin roof, I literally went to the shop and came back. I started small.

I would go and do the Aldi shop then go and get him, and every time when I went to get him he was happy as larry playing or sleeping.

I initially felt worse that he was actually fine without me, and it was me that wasn’t fine without him. It took me over a month to build this up once a week before I felt a little more at ease. Gradually 30 minutes turned into an hour, then 2 hours. I had cracked it, she said.

The first time I left him I was like a cat on a hot tin roof

 Well spoiler alert… I had not cracked it. In fact that term is now banned in our house. Just for the record… even if you think you have. Never, ever say it out loud. These tiny people listen and decide to show you how much you really have not ‘cracked it’!

Just when I had got comfortable and confident leaving Edison with my mum, the time came to start settling him into nursery.

Again. It’s a permanent fixture these days. I left him for an hour the first time and I sat in the car and sobbed with a greggs coffee in one hand, and a belgian bun the size of my face in the other. Bridget Jones eat your heart out right here! I sat in the car stuffing my face like a deranged secret eater, crying into my coffee with a blistered mouth, (definitely not used to hot coffee anymore), while on the phone to my mum telling her how this was the worst thing ever.

Nursery did get easier after the first couple of times, but I hated that the first time I couldn’t stay with him (thanks Covid). An added stress for me was the fact that I was still breastfeeding, and he also wouldn’t take a bottle.

These breastfed babies are absolute diva’s! Honestly, do not even utter the words “if he’s hungry enough he’ll take it”! Believe me, I tried different bottles, different people, I was never present etc. and it was a drama every single time.

Well…the third week into doing 2 hourly sessions a week at nursery and the little sod decided he would take a bottle didn’t he. Off Abi. Abi who he had known for 3 sodding weeks (and is absolutely lovely by the way). Not off his dad, his grandad, his grandma. Nope, off Abi who he’d known a hot second.

I was livid! I had battled for months before and he just wouldn’t take the breast milk out of anything other than me. I had spent a fortune on different cups, had sleepless nights and countless meltdowns… for him to take the damn bottle off Abi who he’s known for 3 sodding weeks!! It’s not raw at all, and I took it really well as you can tell. 

Do not feel that you have to justify why you don’t want someone else to hold your baby.

Fast forward to 2024, and here I am for the second time around but with my daughter. I would love to tell you that it is completely different this time, but honestly it isn’t.

The circumstances are just very different this time. Maddie is nearly 6 months old, and I have only ever left her a few times. There have been lots of other factors at play this time, but the one thing I do remember from the first time that I didn’t do, was to be kind to myself.

I put myself under so much pressure with Edison, but with my daughter if I don’t feel like I want to leave her I don’t. If I just want a cuddle, then I do that where I can. Not always that practical with a toddler who is also part mountain goat!!  I’m definitely a lot calmer about it this time, but I think that also has to do with being a more ‘experienced’ (if you can call it that!) mum. I am more confident in my abilities and better at validating my feelings.

I am yet to navigate settling Maddie into nursery etc, but this time I am taking action to try and curb my anxiety as a chronic overthinker. I already have her on the waiting list so that I know she has a place at the nursery that my son goes to. I don’t know how it is going to go, but it is all out of my control. Instead, I am doing my best to enjoy this time with her and where I can do something about the elements that are affecting my mental health, I do something about it. It is not always that straight forward, believe me, I know. I am very much in the same situation with the lack of her taking a bottle, but instead of getting even more stressed with it I just decided to give it a break. I re-framed it and reminded myself that it’s not forever. Of course it is still taxing, but I didn’t want to end up not enjoying feeding her which is exactly where it was heading. No-one ever tells you how hard it is to stop breastfeeding do they! That’s a whole other topic for another day.

The one thing I did take forward from the first time, and still stand by today is this. Do not feel that you have to justify why you don’t want someone else to hold your baby. They’re yours at the end of the day, and no matter how you are feeling on that day you are perfectly within your rights to say no. If people are offended, that is their issue, but the majority of people are actually very understanding. That said, if you are reading this and are lucky enough not to understand, then please do not judge someone else if they do not want you to hold their baby. Wash the dishes, put some washing in, make a cuppa… that will probably get cold anyway, but the thought counts. My point is it all still helps, and not feeling judged by someone else like many mums do, is a silent sigh of relief to us all.

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