My First Five Years

How anxious should you be about leaving your baby with someone other than you? The answer, not as anxious as you think!

When is it ok to leave your baby with someone else? The experts from My First FIve Years explain... 

As parents, we can feel guilty about our baby’s sense of attachment. Do you need to be with your baby every waking moment? Is it ok for someone else to care for them or will this weaken your bond? Attachment is important, but babies can and do form strong bonds with several people, so having others around who care for them can only be a good thing! We share our top tips for when other people look after your baby, and explain why it is such a wonderful thing.

Everyone has a different experience when it comes to why they might be leaving their baby with someone who is not the parent. It might be a friend watching them for an hour while you nap, leaving them with some form of formal childcare while you work or having a family member take care of them so you can have an evening off. 

We're not going to pretend that leaving your baby with someone else is easy – whether it's the first time you are trying it or you're getting used to being separated as part of your routine.  

These five expert tips should go some way to making it more bearable and, in time, positive and affirming for both of you: 

  • Be open and clear with the other person. Explain the things about your baby’s preferences and routine that are especially important to you, and make sure you also talk to the other person about what you want the goodbye to look like (perhaps share these tips with them). 
  • Have a goodbye routine. Do the same thing each time you leave your baby so they begin to know what will happen. It might be a kiss and a cuddle, then they wave goodbye with whoever is looking after them.   
  • Never sneak away. Your baby might seem happy that time, but they might start to worry that you might leave at any time which could make their separation anxiety worse.  
  • Give them a comfort item. Leave your baby with something that they find comforting, perhaps some clothing or yours or their favourite toy.  
  • Keep smiling. Easier said than done, we know. Try to be, or appear to be, happy and confident as you leave so they know that they will be ok: they will be more concerned if you seem anxious or upset.  

Why early attachment research might be making you feel more guilt than you need to when it comes to sharing the care of your baby... 

Psychoanalyst John Bowlby is well known for research into the importance of attachment (his research concentrated on the relationship between babies and their mothers).  

Bowlby’s early research led to a view that a baby’s first attachment had to be with their mother. At the time, this research led to positive changes, particularly after birth when, rather than being taken off to a nursery, newborns were kept with their mothers.   

Now we know more about early attachment, a great deal of which challenges this idea of needing just one central attachment, and understanding this can be particularly helpful to calm your own anxiety if your baby seems unsure about you leaving.   

The importance of other relationships and attachment building for your baby 

There have been many studies of attachment since Bowlby's first publications in the 1950s, and it is now clear that babies form strong bonds with a network of people.   

The focus on one caregiver has extended, as researchers understand that babies form multiple bonds during their first months.   

So... what does this mean for you and your baby?   

Your baby will build relationships with people they see regularly and who respond to them; this is likely to be their parents at first, but will include others.   

You can be reassured that your baby will make close bonds with a few people who are important to them, and that these bonds and relationships are positive – they will help your baby to thrive.   

Use this knowledge to reassure yourself, along with using our tips, when you are allowing someone else to care for your baby.  

Focus on celebrating the ways that your baby will build a bond with the people looking after them, and how you can ensure it is people that your baby sees often so gets to know well.   

That may be quite simple if a family member or friend is going to look after your baby. If you’re thinking about a nursery or group setting, ask about how they make sure your baby is cared for by the same people regularly, so they can form that attachment relationship with a specific person, or few people, there. 

If your child goes to a nursery, you might hear staff talk about your baby having a key person – this person would be the one who builds a close relationship with you and your baby. You could ask how they plan for when that person isn’t available – they might have a ‘buddy’ system so there are two people who will build that close bond with your baby.   

The My First Five Years app is here to ensure you have all the knowledge, and support, you need to feel confident when dealing with the many complicated decisions you make as a parent.  

In the app, you will find a wealth of information about your baby’s development as well as simple ideas for ways you can support them – and a personalised skills journey that helps you see all the small steps that support their learning.

My First Five Years