“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.”
Lovely article..infact an eye opener! But disappointed that there is no mention of twins or triplet’s situation! The velcro baby situation is far more intense….would love to know few tips about twins though.
My daughter is now 2 years and 9 months, should she still be a Velcro baby? I get a lot of flak but she’s been clingy since around 5 months so I’m pretty sure it’s just separation anxiety and nothing else but should I be worried she’s not over it yet?
Hi, i am also a mumy to twins & 1 is a velcro baby so Jo i have that perspective & the main feeling is guilt & worry the other non velcro baby will end up emotionally damaged by the constant breastfeeding & night sleeping with Mummy. I am also a single Mummy to my twins so the stress of trying to do the smallest of simple tasks that are necessary while my velcro baby cries to be picked up by me is sooooo stressful. Sometimes i cry because i haven’t had 5 mins to myself in up to 5 days & that is no exageration!! Dr sears is a great dr to share his support for velcro baby parents!!
Although having felt calm about responding to my baby’s needs this article has reaffirmed this for me. I am a first time mum and am being constantly told to leave my baby and that I am ‘spoiling’ him but my gut feeling has always been to go to him and I am so glad that 13 weeks later I have stayed strong and listened to my intuition. I hope that I am encouraging him to become his own little person, by responding to his needs I feel that I am nurturing him as opposed to ‘spoiling’, creating ‘bad habits’ and a ‘ rod for my own back’ whatever any of that means!
Annie, what a lucky baby! Stay strong – your intuition is spot on!
How I wish I could have read this over a year ago! My son was and still somewhat is,a velcro baby! I actually had a friend tell me that him needing to be held constantly and not being able to sleep alone was my own fault because I wouldn’t put him down. She also kept criticizing me for wearing him in the carrier. Needless to say, I don’t talk to her anymore. Still, I kept wondering if it really was my own fault,though I knew in my heart it wasn’t so. If I could have read more articles like this one,I wouldn’t have felt so alone.
LOVE this article!! I’m a first time mum to an amazing little boy, who is just now starting to reach for daddy the same way he reaches for mummy after a year, but will still reach for mummy and needs mummy cuddles all the time. I’ve heard from the time he was born I was spoiling him but hes my baby, and I love making sure he knows I’m always here for him, and love reading this article! Thank you for writing it! I keep telling people I can baby him a little if he needs me… hes my baby 🙂
What a lucky baby you have – you aren’t ‘spoiling’, you are teaching him to love.
This is also a relief for me to read. My little girl is not so Velcro that I have to hold her all the time, but likes me there constantly and will only be held by others for a short while. She is only 4 months old and I have been told I’m “making a rod for my own back” and to let her cry, but I hate to think of her distressed. My job now is to be her mum, so why should I try to separate from her so that others approve? Still it’s hard to cop the criticism, no matter how well intentioned it is, but to see it’s not my doing, and just her temperament makes it easier. Mum said I was exactly the same, and I turned out ok!
Isnt it reassuring to know you were like this too. I love how you say, why should I separate from her so that others apprve? That’s what it boils down to – enjoy every sweet snuggle knowing you are your baby’s most important security.
It’s so lovely to read articles like this because I’ve been told by many people older than myself (who in many ways I do respect) that not letting my baby cry “will create separation anxiety,” or by mothers with grown up children that parenting the way I do (bed-sharing, on demand breast feeding and carrying my baby with me around the house etc.) is “just a fad.” I feel I’m the youngest parent in my friendship /social group (though I’m not) and the only one to be doing things the way I do. I don’t like arguing back when given ‘advice’ like this because I don’t want to come across as rude or arrogant: I’m a first time mum, so because my child isn’t grown I can’t really show that what I’m doing leads to a well-adjusted adult, and I certainly don’t want to inadvertently criticise those who’ve gone before me in what they did as I think this is unkind, unnecessary and will do no good as they no longer have little ones anyway.. It’s just nice to know that other people condone and have done things in a similar way to what I have been doing instinctively 🙂 helps me want to carry on rather than leaving me confused about whether or not I’m making mistakes. Thank you!
*sorry, that was meant to read “though I don’t feel too young for motherhood”, not “though I’m not” ..!
I have a 20 month old amd a 6 month old. Both are velcro babies but ive found that if I put them together they dont freak out when I need to pee. They are almost as attached to each other as they are to mama.
We are the same way. Our little man is 3 years old and we still cater to his every whim. If he wants to be picked up we don’t even blink an eye. And because of that he is an absolute gentleman and very well mannered. We also have people tell us we are spoiling him. As we say he is only little once and we will do it until he says he is a big boy and he can do it hisself. :0)
There are no spoiled babies, just loved babies!! A preacher told me this once and I have used it often through out my years to make others understand, babies are only little once and there are no “do overs”. Congrats to those who see this.
What a lovely way to say this – beautiful!
What about the Mother’s needs? No one ever mentions or seems to care about the stress all of this clingy/neediness and criticism and pressure on the mother. Some judgment-free sanity advice for Mom?
Of course mothers need loads of support , but it is often the mums who have velcro babies who hear the most judgement and pressure to disconnect from their babies. When they hear they havent ’caused’ their baby to be clingy and they aren’t being judged for their baby’s needs, then they are liberated to ask for the help and support they need.
Thanks so much for this article pinky! My LG 12.5 months. I have always attended to every need I still breast feed. I feel so much better knowing that my instincts are true and I’m so glad to have followed them. Can I ask tho is it still normal to have feelings of leaving them with other people still raw and hard to do? I feel like my inlaws see me as being difficult about it but I’m a first time mum and trying to adapt to it but it’s hard….yes? Thanks again.
I am pregnant with my first bub and plan on attending to every need of our baby. I have already had people “warning” me not to “overhandle” or live life around “babies routine” but have baby trained in “my” routine. I’m honestly shocked! I consider baby and me as a team, not on separate sides where one wins and one loses. Every time such things are said, I literally ignore it and hurry the topic change. I will certainly not be pressured or judged by anyone who thinks this way. How does one gently discourage others from their ill received suggestions?
So how about a “Velcro toddler”? He flips out when I leave, if I’m not right next to him when he’s changing his position in the middle of the night, he wakes up screaming for me, and I can’t even poop without him standing at the door screaming bloody murder. Oh and he’s had a security item since he was 5m old…….my hair. This makes things so much worse.
[…] perception of the world changes so, although this can be just a blip on the radar for some babies, more sensitive babies will need extra reassurance and can become quite clingy or generally unsettled at these […]
My little girl is now 9 months old and will go to her dad happily as well as most other people. But it has been 9 months of only wanting me, screaming if I walk away from her and sleeping in my arms for all of her day naps. I can’t even count the number of times someone has said she is spoilt, will never sleep on her own, crying will be good for her, or that I’m creating a rod for my own back.
In the last week she has been sleeping in her cot during the day and rarely cries at all any more. It’s hard to ignore the advice that goes against your instincts, especially when you’re a first time mum with the eye rolls and judgement that comes along with that, but I’m very glad that I did.
With most of my supports encouraging cc/cio and not understanding my parenting style, your articles and words of encouragement have definitely been a great help in making me feel validated in my choices and given me the strength to trust my instincts, so thank you very much for that.
Instead of saying “good-bye”, the correct term should be “see you later”. I don’t like the former term!
What words of sage support can I say to a friend with a Velcro 3 year old, weaned but still co sleeping and a new baby due in four weeks?
Lovely article, thanks Pinky. Since my daughter was born I have grown to not worry about critics. Next step, dealing with particular relatives who ‘take’ the baby to ‘do me a favour’ & walk off with my velcro baby. We have tried explaining but this person feels it’s there right, it’s a sensitive situation & I can see my bub often just wants to stay with me, open to advise…
[…] I do when my baby cries, and why it’s okay for my baby to sleep next to me, why he always wants to be held and why he shouldn’t be left to cry alone, and why it’s normal for him to feed to sleep. […]
[…] and loves, she’d often FREAK OUT if I wasn’t in sight. She’s a sensitive babe (a velcro baby, as Pinky McKay puts it) who is very observant and curious, taking in all her surroundings, and […]
Try Velcro twins. Very good read. Two at once who even will endanger themselves to try to get to mummy is intense.
I feel that many mums out there feel judged by an outsider who has always related the clingyness due to spoiling, I am a new first time mum aswell and i too get those comments when baby cries because she is Exclusively breast fed and doesnt prefer anyone but mum, apart from Dad time to time. I get the comment of oh she doesnt get out enough, she needs to be more socialised, or she needs to be put down and cry it out. trust me I have tried that before and she was only comfortable for some time before she decided she just wanted me. i can leave her in the room alone if she is comfortable and distracted and happy but when she isnt comfortable when someone else holds her and i have left that person to attempt to make her sleep or calm her down I do politely tell them to hand her over back to me. it just is my job as her mum to take her back to her comfort zone. i never mind the comments i get, its my child and im certain and confident that i make the right decisions. now i dont know, never knew how i knew to do this, but i too had that gut instinct as well so i followed
[…] she knows and loves, she’d often FREAK OUT if I wasn’t in sight. She’s a sensitive babe (a velcro baby, as Pinky McKay puts it) who is very observant and curious, taking in all her surroundings, and […]
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