“My five month old feels as though she is super-glued to me,” says Antoinette. “She screams if
anybody else holds her and if I dare to leave the room she gets hysterical! She is my third baby so,
even though there are days when I just want to run from the room screaming, “LEAVE ME ALONE!” I know ‘this too shall pass’. But I am sick of everyone telling me I am spoiling her or that I should just let her cry and she will get over it.”
If, like Antoinette, you too have a ‘velcro baby’, please be reassured, your baby’s clingy behaviour is not your fault – you have simply been responding to the baby you have. Although it can be stressful to contend with a highly sensitive baby who wants to be constantly held, especially if she only wants to be held by you, it can help to see things from your baby’s perspective. Paediatrician, Dr William Sears says, “in baby’s minds, mother is a part of themselves, and they are part of mother. Mother and baby are one, a complete package. These babies feel right when they feel at one with mother; they feel anxious and frightened when not with mother. These emotions are normal feelings inside a little person who knows that he needs the presence of his mother to thrive and to feel complete.”
Most babies go through clingy phases and these are often due to developmental changes. For instance, newborns depend on close contact to adapt to the world outside the womb and carrying your baby will not only help him feel secure but will regulate his immature heartbeat, rhythmic movements and respiration, helping to balance irregular waking, sleeping and feeding rhythms. As they grow, it is common for babies to become clingy at significant developmental stages and, just as babies have physical growth spurts, they also achieve neurological milestones such as being able to perceive distance, which typically happens at around 25 weeks. This may result in clinginess as your baby realises, mummy is moving away from me. Studies show marked increases in brain development as babies reach these new milestones and, according to Dutch researcher Professor Frans Plooij, author of ‘The Wonder Weeks’ ( www.thewonderweeks.com ), although calmer babies cope with these stages relatively easily, in others, confusion, frustration and anxiety may make them so unsettled they cling to the only safety and security they know – you!
Around six months (but this can vary with individual babies), is the beginning of an important emotional developmental process known as ‘separation anxiety’ which means that your baby now realises you are a
separate being. Because babies don’t have any concept of constancy (when you disappear they think you don’t exist), this phase commonly lasts up to two years when they can understand that when you disappear, you will come back. Separation anxiety is part of normal childhood development, and shows that your baby has developed a healthy attachment to you.
Although there is a wide variation of reactions to this stage and how long it lasts for individual babies, Dr
Sears has more reassurance for parents of babies who become distraught about separations. He says, “loud separation protests reveal that these babies have a capacity for forming deep attachments — if they didn’t care deeply, they wouldn’t fuss so loudly when separated. This capacity is the forerunner of intimacy in adult relationships.” Rachel, a mother of two Velcro babies who have now outgrown her arms and started school without a backwards glance, says, “I prefer to think of velcro babies as babies with a healthy survival instinct who know how to insure their needs are met.”
Sharing the care
The best way to deal with your clingy baby is to help her feel secure by holding her, carrying her in a sling where she is protected from poking by strangers, and introducing other people gradually. You can hold her
as others interact with her then, as she gets used to family members and close friends, let them hold her for short periods with you close by, eventually increasing the distance and separations as she feels comfortable. If you do need to leave your little one, leaving an article of your unwashed clothing (such as your dressing gown or a tee-shirt) can be comforting for her, while her carer is holding her. It is also important to be honest and say goodbye: it is helpful to have a goodbye ritual and a return greeting so she can learn that although you may leave sometimes, you do come back.
It is normal for babies and toddlers to favour or be comforted more easily by one parent, usually mummy, if they are upset or hurt. This isn’t a rejection of the other parent, although it can seem this way. It is a good idea though to encourage time with the parent who isn’t the primary carer. With small babies, this can be done gradually – perhaps with Dad carrying baby in a sling when she is happy or massaging while mum holds baby at first and later, doing an activity such as bathing that is solely Dad’s domain. This way, dads become more confident and have an opportunity to bond deeply too.
Copping the flak
If you do receive flak about your Velcro baby, remember, your baby’s needs are more important than your critics’ opinions. You are not spoiling your clingy baby, you are teaching her to love and, all too soon, this really will pass. In just a few short years, she will be too embarrassed to even kiss you goodbye!
As Ali, mother of a toddler says, “My son was a Velcro baby right up until he was 2 years old. Now he is
happy to say goodbye to me and give me a kiss. It was demanding and frustrating at times, especially when I had almost everyone telling me I was spoiling him, getting him into bad habits. But now, he is so well adjusted, so happy, so confident and happy-go-lucky. He is a wonderful little man. And I know it is
because I just accepted him and went with it.”