Overcoming Maternal Separation Anxiety When Returning to Work

Maternal separation anxiety is described as a mom's experience of worry, sadness, and/or guilt during short-term separations from her baby - chances are, you've experienced it! Here are some tips to consider that may help make the good-byes less tough.

Handling Separation with Positivity and Peace of Mind

If you’re a mom, chances are high that you’ve experienced some degree of maternal separation anxiety at some point. Described as a mom’s experience of worry, sadness, and/or guilt during short-term separations from her child, this is often a common component of getting ready – and perhaps mentally preparing – to return to work after your parental leave is up. While there is a great deal of information readily available about the separation anxiety that eventually develops as part of your baby’s developmental milestones, there isn’t nearly as much regarding maternal separation anxiety – what it means and how to overcome it, especially with so many other things going on in life right now. Here’s what can help:

  • Always stay calm around your little one, especially when saying good-bye as you’re heading out the door. Even if your baby is still just a couple months old, he or she can sense when you’re upset – and that will, in turn, upset them too! Try to make good-byes as calming as possible, so stress on you and your baby is minimized. We get it, mama – once you’re alone in your car, there might be some tears. But try to hold it together until then, so your baby doesn’t see you overly upset!
  • Games like peek-a-boo can be great ways to help prepare your baby for separation. Some moms also try out brief “practice separations”, where your little one is left in the care of your partner, another family member or friend, or a babysitter for a short time while you run a quick errand, grab a bite to eat, or even just have some “me time” somewhere else in your home (we bet a warm bubble bath and a good book sounds amazing right about now!), while others want to spend as much time as possible with their baby as their parental leave comes to an end. However you decide to prepare is solely your decision, but don’t forget to also prioritize self-care during this time!
  • If your little one will be going to daycare, find out if you can do a practice run one morning before you return to work. When most parents do a daycare “dry run”, they opt to leave their baby there for a few hours or half-day. Not only will this help you figure out the best schedule for getting yourself and your baby fed, clothed, and prepared for the day, but it also gives you an opportunity to find the best route to your daycare, figure out what needs to be packed in the diaper bag, and have your first (brief) good-bye, before the official first day back to work.

    Alternatively, if your partner or another family member will be your little one’s primary caregiver after you go back to work, be sure that your baby spends plenty of quality time with them in the days leading up to your return, including feeding, changing, bathing, playing, and other activities. Though it can be tough – and you may want to squeeze in as much one-on-one time with your little one as possible! – it will benefit your baby by helping them get used to and feel comfortable with this other caretaker.
  • Make sure your little one has their favorite blanket, toys, stuffed animal, and/or binkie as you’re getting ready to leave. Their favorite items can bring comfort and may even grab their interest as you’re slipping out the door, so you can head out without an emotional good-bye – which may help minimize your sadness at leaving too!

    Another consideration is if your baby has an older sibling. Their brother or sister may be more accustomed to your usual (non-parental leave) schedule and can play with your little one as you’re leaving, whether at home with a caretaker or dropped off together at daycare – not only will your baby love the quality time with their big brother or sister, but they’ll find comfort in another close, familiar face.
  • Talk to your manager about easing into your return to work, if possible. Ask him or her if you could come back on a part-time or partially remote basis, allowing you to gradually become accustomed to short separations from your baby while easing into a full-time schedule. In some cases, this may not be possible – but it could be worth the conversation if your team and/or company is able to be flexible.
  • Having a mindfulness app readily available at your fingertips can help minimize everyday anxieties and stresses that parenthood may bring. Expectful, for example, features the largest library of meditations and sleep content for fertility, pregnancy, and parenthood to help mamas like you nurture their mental and emotional health during these transformational times. You can even be matched with postpartum experts and other care providers - from nutritionists and lactation consultants to sleep experts - to help you discover and nurture your very best self. 

Consistency can also be helpful when overcoming maternal separation anxiety, and can be beneficial for your baby as well. If you’re able, keep your work schedule as consistent as possible by leaving and returning around the same times each day. If that’s not possible, that’s okay – having plenty of quality time together when you are at home is what’s most important! We understand that it can be tough going back to work and you may be conflicted, particularly if you enjoy your job, colleagues, and occasionally getting out of the house. You’re doing a great job balancing it all and remember – your baby loves you and knows exactly who you are!

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