Returning to work can leave new moms anxious over the thought their little one is missing their safe person. But, the truth is this tends to take a greater toll on working mamas than babies—at least until the reach the age of 10-18 months when separation anxiety typically spikes for babies.
Whether you're proactively trying to avoid separation anxiety or just need a little something to ease your own mind upon returning from maternity leave, there are a few strategies that can make it a more harmonious transition.
1. Pick the childcare that suits your family
Consider your child's temperament and choose childcare that will best meet their needs. Even once you have found the right center, it can be beneficial to get to know the individual carers. You may be able to find a lovely gentle carer in your baby's room that you could ask to be the sole carer for your little one for the first couple of weeks so they can try to form a strong connection.
2. Ease into time apart
Organize someone to look after your babe a couple of times before you officially begin work. If you don't have the ability to wean them gently into childcare, see if a trusted friend or family member can spend time with your child so they feel more confident without you. (And vice-versa!)
3. Offer a comfort blanket baby will begin to associate with you
You can even sleep with a new “comfort blanket" for a couple of nights so it smells of you. (Believe me: This will do good for your soul when you see your baby cuddle with it, too!) If your child is slighter older and they have a special toy this will also be great to take along as they transition into childcare. Just to note make sure these special blankets and toys are in their bag at pick up—and it's also great to have a spare just in case one gets left behind or lost!
4. Talk baby through what to expect—even if it's just for your sake
Talk to your child about what's going to be happening, even if they are little they will be taking it in. It can be helpful to also read stories about children who go to childcare or even make up a little song. Be creative and tailor your approach to be age appropriate.
5. See if you can spend time at childcare with them
If you can, spend a short amount of time in the center with the child showing them it's a fun place to be. Then, if possible, leave them in the care there for longer periods of time. Keep in mind that sometimes children settle better in childcare if they are spending two or more days per week instead of just one, so you may need to be flexible in your approach. Often if they are only going one day a week it can slightly longer to make a strong connection with a childcare educator and settle into the new environment, but it will happen.
6. Try to stay calm—at least until after drop-off
Your body language speaks louder than words. You only need to hold it together for that short drop-off period—and then you can totally fall apart in the car when you leave. Make sure you keep drop-off time to a short and consistent routine.
7. Ask the childcare provider to send photos
Ask your carer to send some photos during the day so you can see they have calmed and settled, which will help you feel better and focus at work. Many childcare centers now have software that you can log into and see what your child is up to and most will have some kind of diary you can look at as well.
8. Block out time to reconnect at home
Make time when you get home for lots of cuddles and connection time, this will help your little darling feel connected and loved, which will help ease separation anxiety. It may mean putting some strategies in place for your household tasks but it's definitely worth it. Maybe on childcare nights, you have a simple dinner that just needs oven heating so you have that extra time together.
These tips should give you some ideas on how to reduce the possibility of separation anxiety or how to gently manage it if it arises. I have worked with many families on return to work transitions and it's important to approach each situation individually and find the right fit for your family.